The Trump administration will end federal funding for 13 community-based coronavirus testing sites by the end of June as part of a previously announced plan to extend financial support for Covid-19 testing across the nation by other means.
The move, confirmed by NBC News, will affect seven sites in Texas, which has seen a surge of Covid-19 cases. The six other affected sites are located in Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado and Pennsylvania.
“We are not withdrawing federal support” for coronavirus testing, the Trump administration’s testing czar, Adm. Brett Giroir, told reporters during a call by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
“We are providing federal support in a different way,” Giroir said as he outlined how hundreds of other testing locations are providing coronavirus tests funded by federal money.
He also said, “We are going to increase testing, both in the number and the quality, and in the targeting on social media.”
Giroir noted that the 13 sites, which will remain open under state and local control, are 28 fewer than the original number of community-based testing sites set up when the Covid-19 pandemic began spreading aggressively in the U.S. in mid-March.
But Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, is pushing back against the decision by the administration to withdraw from direct funding to the sites.
A Cruz spokesman told NBC News that the senator “has urged and will continue to urge [health officials] to extend the community testing sites in Texas.”
The other Republican who represents Texas in the Senate, John Cornyn, said, “I know there’s concern, concern I share, over some of the statements being made about withdrawing federal support for coronavirus testing in Texas at the end of June. It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not a time to retreat from our vigilance in testing.”
“I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed,” Cornyn said.
Rocky Vaz, the director of emergency management for Dallas, Texas, told NBC that the city has “a plan and the capacity to continue testing.”
The Trump administration originally announced in April that it would discontinue federal support for the baker’s dozen of community-based Covid-19 test sites, saying the move was part of an effort to broaden community testing and encourage more private-public partnerships for testing.
The administration had delayed the decision, which had met with resistance from lawmakers, until now.
Giroir said that the original 41 community testing sites has been expanded to more than 600 testing sites in 48 states under a federal bundled payment program to pharmacies, and that more than 1,400 other pharmacy sites, primarily run by CVS, are providing tests “through regulatory flexibility empowering pharmacists and facilitating billing and reimbursement.”
President Donald Trump (L) and Vice President Mike Pence attend a teleconference with governors at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters on March 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Evan Vucci | Getty Images
Giroir told NBC News in a statement that HHS “will continue to increase testing capacity overall, and make it more accessible especially to underserved communities.”
“We are transitioning 13 sites from the original now antiquated program to the more efficient and effective testing sites outlined above,” he said in that statement.
“All 13 sites were provided an extra 30 days from the original transition date in May, and I personally spoke with Governors from all 5 states involved, and/or their leadership designees, who agreed that it was the appropriate time to transition out of the original 13 sites and into the thousands of new testing options.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the move in a tweet that linked to the original article breaking news of the June 30 cutoff date, which was published by Talking Points Memo.
“Let me get this straight: Cases are spiking across the country,” wrote Schumer, who is the Senate minority leader.
“The admin has $14 billion for testing and tracing that they haven’t spent. But President Trump thinks the right move is to pull federal support for testing out of hotspot areas!?”