California counties worry about future of coronavirus testing sites

California counties worry about future of coronavirus testing sites
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A number of California counties are worried about the future of their state-funded coronavirus testing sites as the number of new cases surges within the state, Kaiser Health News reported Wednesday.

Almost two dozen county public health officials expressed concern to Kaiser Health News that the state has threatened to cut funding to underutilized testing sites.

Officials from Contra Costa County, Riverside County and Mendocino County told the news outlet they felt they were at risk of losing their testing sites.


Ali Bay, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, stressed in a statement that the state has not “halted/suspended/ended any testing programs.” 

The state has more than 100 community testing sites, Bay told The Hill. These sites are on contract through Aug. 31, and officials “will be making a decision on those testing sites at some point before then.”

Bay also said the state’s testing capacity has “increased dramatically” from about 2,000 a day in April to more than 105,000 tests on Monday.  

She said some of these sites “had very little utilization at one point” but nearly all of them have since seen “significantly increased utilization.” Only one site has been relocated due to low use: one of the two sites in El Dorado County.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly told Kaiser Health News that the state is moving testing locations from counties that aren’t recording high enough numbers and stopping funding for new locations.

“With every asset and resource — especially when it’s scarce — you want it to go to places where it’s most needed,” Ghaly said. “It wouldn’t be prudent or wise to maintain spending in a place where resources aren’t being used.”


A state administration official confirmed to the news outlet that the state aims to see at least 80 percent of a site’s testing slots filled. 

But local public health officials argue that underperforming testing sites should remain open to ensure accessibility to rural and disenfranchised communities, which sometimes already struggle with health care access.

The local officials said testing appointment numbers in these communities may be low because people need internet access, an email address and usually a vehicle to go to testing sites, most of which are drive-thru.

California has provided up to $132 million in contracts with two private testing companies, Verily Life Sciences and OptumServe, to give free COVID-19 tests. 

Kaiser Health News noted that testing is also available at county-funded locations, private pharmacies, hospitals and community clinics. 

California recorded its highest number of new cases on Tuesday reaching 8,158 after previously breaking its record on Monday, according to data from The New York Times. The state has counted 222,917 cases during the pandemic, leading to 5,980 deaths.