The decision to end funding for these sites could exacerbate the existing shortage of COVID-19 tests just as many states are hurtling toward their peak in cases.
The Trump administration will end federal funding for 40 coronavirus testing sites on Friday, forcing many sites to close and making it more difficult for many Americans to get tested for COVID-19.
The decision to end support, which comes even as tests remain difficult to obtain in many places, has left many local officials disappointed, NPR reported on Wednesday. Officials in Montgomery County, Penn., a suburb just outside of Philadelphia, said that the government’s decision to end funding will force them to shut down one of their most successful drive-through testing sites.
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FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had funded and set up the site, along with 39 other ones across the country, to expand testing capacity. And it worked.
“It has been a very successful site. We are hoping by the time it closes Friday afternoon that we will have tested a little over 5,000 individuals,” Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, told NPR.
The site, which is located on Temple University’s Ambler campus, has tested 250 people a day since March 21 in an area that has been hammered by the pandemic. The county of roughly 825,000 people has more than 1,400 confirmed cases and 43 deaths due to COVID-19.
While local officials staffed the site, the federal government provided testing supplies and lab access via a contract with LabCorp, a private company. Arkoosh told NPR that the county is unable to secure those supplies and tests on its own. As a result, the site has no other choice but to shut down, even as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise dramatically with each day.
“I am understandably disappointed that the supplies and federal contract for lab testing is ending just as we are heading into the surge here in southeastern Pennsylvania,” Arkoosh told NPR.
In a statement to WHYY, FEMA said the federally-funded program was intended as a temporary “immediate high impact intervention” to expand testing capabilities in critical locations across the country, and that testing will now be handed off to states.
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“Transitioning fully to state-managed operation creates an opportunity for the states to better serve their own communities, while leveraging federal support to augment their state’s success,” the statement said.
While some of these 40 sites will remain open thanks to state funding, many, including a second Philadelphia-area testing site, will not. The decision to end funding for these sites marks the latest attempt by the federal government to defer responsibility to states and could exacerbate the existing shortage of COVID-19 tests just as many states are hurtling toward their peak in cases.
Arkoosh told NPR that it remains unclear if local hospitals, which have set up their own testing sites, will be able to administer extra tests to fill the gap being left by the federal government.