Illinois Guv Accuses Trump Of Slowing Down Testing In States

Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Illinois voters will decide whether to auhtorize a graduated-rate tax based on income size. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)
Gov. JB Pritzker (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) office accused the Trump administration of trying to sabotage COVID-19 testing in a statement to TPM, as the federal government moves to let support lapse for two testing sites in the state.

“As coronavirus cases continue to rise nationally, President Trump admitted he wants to slow down coronavirus testing and now the federal government will no longer support two testing sites in Illinois,” Jordan Abudayyeh, Pritzker’s press secretary, told TPM.

The governor’s commentary appears to contradict the words of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir, who said in a Tuesday evening press release that governors of all five states affected by the lapse in federal support “agreed that it was the appropriate time to transition out of the original 13 sites and into the thousands of new testing options.”

HHS denied Pritzker’s accusation in a statement to TPM, saying “leadership from the State of Illinois agreed to transition the two IL testing sites on May 27.”

HHS spokeswoman Mia Heck attached a letter from Illinois Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Scott Swinford in which the Illinois official appeared to agree to stipulate to not asking for further federal aid after June 30 in exchange for aid up to that date.

The Trump administration has argued that the end of federal support will allow the sites to “transition” to state management, supplemented by separate federal programs aimed at increasing testing availability in private pharmacies and federally recognized health centers.

In a statement to TPM, the Illinois Department of Public Health said that it had asked for an extension of federal support for the two sites in the state.

“Illinois did request an extension for continued federal support at the two Illinois community-based testing sites the federal government was funding, but unfortunately, the request was denied,” said Melaney Arnold, a public information officer for the department.

Heck, the HHS spokeswoman, said that “as of close of business on June 24, HHS has not received an official request to extend operations from the state for the two sites in question.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted in a statement that the U.S. yesterday “recorded its third highest coronavirus case count since this pandemic began.”

“So today, the Trump Administration announces that it will cut off federal funding to operate COVID-19 testing sites in Illinois and four other states,” Durbin said. “At a time when expanded testing is critical to conquering this virus and re-opening our economy, President Trump’s decision defies common sense.”

Federal support for the sites comes in the form of test kits and contracts with laboratories and a call center to notify patients of their results. The government also provides staff from the U.S. Public Health Service to help operate the sites.

TPM reported on Tuesday that the Trump administration intends to let support for the 13 remaining community-based testing sites around the country lapse.

HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up 41 of the sites around the country in March, aiming to provide additional testing capacity for the pandemic.

Giroir has said that the sites were “antiquated” and “inefficient,” and that HHS has worked to ensure that local communities could lose federal support for the sites without losing overall testing capacity.

The Trump administration attempted to end support for the sites in April, but reversed that decision after a public outcry.

Since then, however, federal support for the sites has ended on a slow, grinding basis around the country. There are now 13 of the sites left, with the majority in the COVID-stricken state of Texas.

Abudayyeh added in her statement that, in Illinois’ case, the state would step in to “ensure operations at the two federal testing sites continue.”

This post has been updated.

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