Officials in states across the US have reacted with alarm to the Trump administration’s plan to end federal support for some Covid-19 testing sites, warning it could cause further spread of a disease that is already surging back and calling the move “irresponsible”.
The White House confirmed on Wednesday it will no longer fund 13 testing sites, including seven in Texas, despite that state reporting record highs in the number of coronavirus cases.
Funding and support for the sites will end this month, even as Covid-19 cases surge across the US. The sites are in Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Colorado.
Hospital admissions hit record highs in seven US states on Tuesday, including in Texas, which reported an all-time daily high of 5,489 new cases on Tuesday.
Four US congresspeople from Texas urged the government to reconsider defunding the testing sites in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).
The move would be “harmful and irresponsible”, they wrote in the letter.
“We need the support of Fema now more than ever as our communities and the state of Texas see unprecedented growth in cases of the coronavirus disease,” added the members of Congress, including Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat whose district covers much of east Houston.
“At this time, we must expand the number of people tested per day to prevent further spread of the virus.
“We must continue to protect our vulnerable communities and the capacity of our healthcare system.”
Four of the testing sites which will lose funding are in Harris county, which includes Houston, where doctors have warned that hospitals are nearing capacity. The four sites, the Houston Chronicle reported, administer thousands of tests a day.
Hospitalizations from coronavirus in Texas have risen 60% in the last week, which is one of seven states that have reported their highest coronavirus patient admissions during the pandemic in recent days.
The majority of those states – Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas – are in the south, where lockdown measures were eased earlier than many other states in the country. California has also reported record highs in Covid-19 cases.
Chuck Schumer, the minority leader of the Senate, expressed alarm at the funding cut on Wednesday morning.
“Let me get this straight: Cases are spiking across the country,” Schumer wrote on Twitter.
“The admin has $14 billion for testing and tracing that they haven’t spent. But President Trump thinks the right move is to pull federal support for testing out of hotspot areas!?”
Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health, said the government was “transitioning” the testing locations to “more efficient and effective testing sites”.
The dissenting voices against the cuts even include Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas and a staunch Trump ally. A spokesman for Cruz told NBC News the senator “has urged and will continue to urge [health officials] to extend the community testing sites in Texas”.
A group of 20 members of the Texas house and senate who represent Harris county are also resisting the move.
On Wednesday the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced new restrictions on people traveling from states “with significant community spread of Covid”.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said people traveling from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington would be required to quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state.
And while the White House, chiefly via the vice-president and coronavirus taskforce head, Mike Pence, spoke of “encouraging signs” some state governors and business chiefs were talking instead about restrictions as the virus surges across the south and western US.
Nevada and North Carolina ordered residents to wear masks in public, and Virginia moved to implement new workplace safety rules obliging companies to protect workers. Meanwhile, Disneyland delayed plans to reopen, the Washington Post reported.