Texas lawmakers upped the pressure on the federal government Tuesday to keep supporting COVID-19 testing sites in the state, petitioning the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue to assist the sites past the end of the month.
The move came after TPM published a story revealing that the federal government intends to cease supporting community-based testing sites in five states on June 30.
The story has led to the following reactions:
- Four Texas lawmakers sent a letter to HHS and FEMA demanding that the sites remain open. The letter, from Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) and three other Lone Star lawmakers, asks for support for the Houston sites to be extended until Aug. 30. “Texas continues to set records for the number of new cases and hospitalizations and Harris County leads the state in the number of confirmed cases,” the letter reads. “Without FEMA’s supplies, fiscal aid and personnel, these sites may no longer be able to serve our communities.”
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) signaled his support for the sites remaining open in a statement to the Houston Chronicle, saying that he “has urged and will continue to urge HHS and FEMA to extend the community testing sites in Texas.”
- Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) expressed outrage at the move.
- Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services Brett Giroir issued a statement on Tuesday night calling the thirteen testing sites for which support will be ended “antiquated,” while maintaining that governors from the five states which have federally supported testing sites “agreed that it was the appropriate time to transition out of the original 13 sites and into the thousands of new testing options.” Giroir did not address local, state, and federal officials petitioning his office for the sites to remain open.
- A City of Houston spokesperson sent TPM a letter that the public health authority for the Houston Health Department, Dr. David Persse, sent to the Trump administration on behalf of the mayor of Houston, asking for support for the sites to be extended. The letter was sent on June 20 to the deputy surgeon general of the U.S. Public Heath Service, which provides staff to help operate the sites.
- Harris County Public Health director Dr. Umair Shah sent a letter the same day to the same official, demanding that the sites be extended. Harris County encompasses Houston.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) was asked about the report in an interview with a local radio station on Tuesday. He said that “there is a strategy that will supplant and actually be superior to that strategy” which the state will announce “within a week.”
Read the letter from four Texas members of Congress:
Read Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services Brett Giroir’s full statement:
“The federal government is not ending funding or support for COVID-19 testing sites. On the contrary, we have expanded from the original 41 sites to over 600 in 48 states and the District of Columbia in the federal bundled payment program to pharmacies, and enabled over 1400 additional pharmacy sites through regulatory flexibility empowering pharmacists and facilitating billing and reimbursement. In addition, 93% of all Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) offer COVID-19 testing at over 1300. HHS will continue to increase testing capacity overall, and make it more accessible especially to underserved communities. The only truthful, but still misleading report in the media, is that we are transitioning 13 sites from the original now antiquated program to the more efficient and effective testing sites outlined above. 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.”
Read the June 20 letter from Houston Public Health Authority Dr. David Persse:
Read the June 20 letter from Harris County Public Health director Dr. Umair Shah: