GOP senators push back on Trump administration plan to end support for testing sites

Texas Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R) on Thursday sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) protesting the administration’s plans to cut back federal support of drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in Texas and other states.

The senators called the testing sites “critical to Texas’ testing capacity” at a time the number of coronavirus cases in the state is spiking, hitting a peak of 5,551 new cases on Wednesday.

“Now is not the time to end a program that is working and successfully increasing testing capacity — especially for underserved communities in the state. Due to the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in Texas, cities need additional time to prepare for the transition to state and local control of the testing sites,” the senators wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday the state will pause its reopening plan and ordered hospitals to halt elective surgeries to help deal with the crush of new cases.

Cornyn, who is up for reelection in November, and Cruz sent the letter after it was reported this week that the administration plans to end support for 13 community-based coronavirus testing sites by the end of June. Seven of those sites are in Texas.

“Maintaining the CBTS sties is critical to Texas’ testing capacity. As the CBTS program is set to expire on June 30, I urge you to grant an extension of the program for the testing sites in Texas,” the senators wrote.

The lawmakers pointed out that Texas “is currently experiencing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases” and that “some of the state’s largest cities — where these CBTS sites are located — are experiencing single-day records of new cases.”

The Trump administration’s COVID-19 testing czar, Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for HHS, asserted Wednesday the administration won’t abandon the testing programs in Texas and other states. 

Giroir said while the federal government will stop directly funding 13 community-based testing sites, the amount of testing will not decrease.

“We are not withdrawing support,” he said. “We are providing federal support in a different way.”

Giroir said the 13 community-based sites will continue to be operated by the states.

“We have worked carefully to make sure that [the 13 sites] could sunset without losing any services to any people,” he said.

The other states affected by the transition of federal resources are Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

News of the plan to end federal support of the community-based testing sites broke this week after President Trump said at a political rally in Tulsa that he has asked officials to slow down testing.

“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’ ” the president told a crowd of supporters.

White House officials later said Trump was joking.

Nathaniel Weixel contributed. 

Tags Brett Giroir Coronavirus covd-19 Donald Trump John Cornyn Ted Cruz testing

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