Phoenix mayor says FEMA denied multiple requests for coronavirus testing site

Phoenix mayor says FEMA denied multiple requests for coronavirus testing site
© ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (D) said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied several requests for a coronavirus testing site in the city even as Arizona experienced a big rise in COVID-19 cases.

Gallego told AZCentral in a story published Monday that her office had asked the agency to create a large-scale drive-thru site comparable to those in cities like Houston but that when she made the request in April, the agency said the city’s case numbers were too low for such a site.

The mayor said she has submitted another request now that the state has more than 100,000 known coronavirus cases. In response, "They said they're trying to get away from that type of testing site ... and they don't want to open any new ones," she said.

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Both Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) office and state Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ told the publication that FEMA is providing support to the state in other forms.

Christ said the agency only deployed 13 of the drive-thru sites and that the federal government offered one to Arizona toward the beginning of the pandemic before using it for the Navajo Nation, which was disproportionately hit by the pandemic before it began to take a major toll on the state.

She added that the agency’s testing strategy has focused more on partnerships with local providers throughout communities rather than central hubs, citing partnerships with drugstores such as Walgreens and CVS, but said Arizona is still in the process of making necessary increases in its testing capacity.

Gallego said that Arizona’s outbreak calls for far wider-reaching testing infrastructure, noting the hours-long lines at South Mountain Community College over the weekend.

"These are people who are feeling sick and miserable and dehydrated to begin with and we want to be able to get them tested," she told the publication.

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“FEMA continues to provide requested assistance to states, territories and tribes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In regard to testing, we have provided Arizona with 367,064 swabs and 381,994 media for a total of 749,058 testing supplies delivered to Arizona," a FEMA spokesperson told The Hill. "The state decides where those supplies go within Arizona.Community-Based Testing Sites (CBTS) are handled by the Department of Health and Human Services."

"Through public private partnerships with the federal government, there are currently 11 federally funded retail and pharmacy based locations in partnership with CVS, Health Mart Walgreens, and Walmart in Arizona. Six of these sites are in the Phoenix area," the spokesperson added. "There are an additional 64 pharmacy testing sites in Arizona that operate independently, with 13 of these sites located in the Phoenix area.”

--This report was updated at 2:46 p.m.