About an hour after the nation’s top public health officials denied to Congress that President Donald Trump had ordered a slowdown in COVID-19 testing, news broke that the federal government was winding down support for local testing sites in states like Texas that continue to break daily case records.
The Trump administration will end support for 13 sites in five states—including seven in Texas, which has been particularly hard-hit by the virus in recent weeks—on June 30, according to a report from Talking Points Memo. The sites were set up earlier this year to assist local authorities after a series of missteps led to a national dearth in available or affordable COVID-19 tests. At these locations, the feds provide testing kits, laboratory access, staff, and other costs.
As on Tuesday, Texas was reporting its highest number of new daily coronavirus cases yet—at more than 5,000, according to Gov. Greg Abbott. Its last record was set just two days ago, on Saturday, at 4,430. And the state broke its record for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 for the 11th consecutive day on Monday, with 3,711.
“COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled," Abbott said during a news conference this week from Austin. “Closing down Texas again will always be the last option.”
Dallas County, which has the second-highest number of cases in the state behind Houston’s Harris County, will lose federal assistance at two testing sites, according to Rocky Vaz, the director of emergency management for the city of Dallas. Vaz told TPM the county asked for an extension on the support, but that the federal government declined.
“We want to continue with the testing,” Vaz told TPM. “They told us very clearly that they are not going to extend it,” he added, while noting “things change.” The federal government previously moved to wind down its financial commitment to testing sites in states early this spring, before backpedaling.
The news was especially jarring in the wake of President Trump’s comments on Saturday—which surrogates have called a joke—about intentionally slowing down the nation’s testing initiatives so that the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. will look smaller.
“When you test—when you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people,” Trump said, while speaking at the first mass indoor public gathering in the country since the pandemic sparked statewide in mid-March. “You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.”
When asked about the comments on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that he had never “been told to slow down on testing” and that “we will be doing more testing.”
Other sites losing the test-capacity assistance are located in Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, according to TPM.
A Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman told the news site that the program was initially aimed to “develop and bring initial testing capabilities to socially vulnerable locations across the country,” that the agency is “broadening” its support for testing in other ways, and that states are merely being expected to “transition” to control their own initiatives by the end of the month. FEMA released press statements with similar language.
“Texas has seen the highest number of new cases in the country, 12 days in a row,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, calling Tuesday “the worst possible time” to decrease federal assistance to the state. “Trump doesn’t give a damn about the health and safety of our Texas families. He only cares about doing whatever he can to appease his right-wing base.”
Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment in reaction to the news on Tuesday.