U.S. Shifts Virus Testing Support, Raising Concern in Texas

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The Trump administration is shifting support for Covid-19 testing centers to private pharmacies and health centers, drawing criticism from a Republican senator in Texas where the bulk of government-backed sites remain and where virus cases are skyrocketing.

There are 13 federally supported testing sites in five states, seven of which are in Texas, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Federal backing for the 13 facilities ends June 30, when it will be refocused on 600 pharmacy sites and 1,300 health centers, Brett Giroir, the assistant U.S. health secretary, said in an email.

U.S. Shifts Virus Testing Support, Raising Concern in Texas

The shift comes as Texas is among several states now seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases after reopening. On Tuesday, Texas recorded more than 5,000 new cases, a record for the state. Republican Senator John Cornyn criticized the move as ill-timed.

“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,” Cornyn said in a statement Wednesday. “I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed.”

In a letter last week, Umair Shah, the head of public health in Harris County, which includes hard-hit Houston, requested that the aid be extended until August 31, saying “it is clear Covid-19 testing is needed now more than ever.”

Houston-area hospitals could exceed intensive-care bed capacity as soon as Thursday, local officials said. “There is a massive outbreak of COVID-19 across the state of Texas,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a Wednesday interview with KFDA TV.

The move by HHS shifts the support away from an “antiquated program” to “more efficient and effective testing sites,” Giroir said, adding that he had talked to governors or their designees from all 5 states involved.

U.S. Shifts Virus Testing Support, Raising Concern in Texas

They “agreed that it was the appropriate time to transition out of the original 13 sites and into the thousands of new testing options,” he said.

Giroir also said HHS is increasing testing capacity overall. This contradicts President Donald Trump at a rally on Saturday saying he told his administration to rein in screening. Giroir and other health officials told House lawmakers Tuesday they hadn’t spoken to Trump in at least two weeks.

The 13 federally supported sites were part of an original 41 in 12 states set up with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Support for those ran out in May and was extended for just the 13 sites.

FEMA said in a statement the sites were meant to be short-term and focused initially on health-care workers and first responders.

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