HOUSTON – Local leaders and lawmakers are pleading with the federal government to extend support for COVID-19 testing sites in Texas as cases continue to grow at a rapid rate.
Seven COVID-19 testing centers across Texas, including four in the Houston-area, are set to lose federal funding on June 30, after the Trump administration decided not to extend the program that established them.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston and Harris County Health authorities and members of the Texas congressional delegation, from both sides of the aisle, are among the leaders calling for the federal government to act as Texas is seeing a severe surge in new coronavirus cases each day.
“It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not a time to retreat from our vigilance in testing,”Republican Senator John Cornyn wrote in a statement. “I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee along with fellow Democratic representatives Al Green, Lizzie Fletcher and Sylvia Garcia sending a letter asking FEMA to extend the federal support for the four major testing sites to August 30.
“We cannot stop testing on June 30 in Houston. There’s not enough capacity for us to be able to test if the federal government is not making a commitment to testing,” Jackson Lee said during a Tuesday press conference.
Turner said Wednesday that more than 60,000 people in Houston have been tested for the coronavirus at the city’s two federally -supported sites at Butler and Delmar stadiums. With the help of federal assistance, the city was able to increase its free testing capabilities from 200 to 500 at those sites, the mayor said. Turner promised Butler and Delmar would remain open with the city hoping to find new “community partners” to help share the costs and run both operations.
As of Wednesday evening, between Houston and Harris County, there are 25,786 cases of the virus with 346 deaths and 9,009 recoveries. Mayor Sylvester Turner announced nearly 1,000 new cases Wednesday at a press conference.
In a letter to the Deputy Surgeon General, Dr. Umair Shah with the Harris County Public Health Department asked for the full commitment and authorization of continued support from FEMA to help battle the coronavirus pandemic. He noted that Harris County has the third-largest population in the country and has seen a significant increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the past weeks. He asked that FEMA assistance be extended through Aug. 30.
Shah said if the trend continues, Harris County’s healthcare system could be overwhelmed by the pandemic. He said there is an increasing demand for testing sites in the county and that testing facilities have routinely reached capacity by midday.
He said, “COVID-19 testing is needed now more than ever.”
🚨Our Executive Director Dr. Umair A. Shah @ushahmd sent a letter to @HHSGov @Surgeon_General addressing the need for #COVID19 tests and asked for full commitment and authorization of continued support through @fema for the COVID-19 Community-Based Testing Sites in #HarrisCounty. pic.twitter.com/8YXvtwIVBU— Harris County Public Health #SocialDistance (@hcphtx) June 24, 2020
Houston’s health authority, Dr. David Persse sent a similar letter urging action from the federal government.
“The federal support of testing sites has been critical to our largely successful efforts to protect our families, neighbors and infrastructure from the effects of COVID-19 pandemic till now,” Persse said.
He also warned that losing federal support for testing sites could lead to catastrophic by “blunting the progression” of COVID-19.
“Losing the support of the federal government for testing sites will undoubtedly have catastrophic cascading consequences in the region’s ability to adequately test, quarantine and isolate, ultimately blunting the progression of #COVID19.” - #Houston Health Authority, Dr. Persse pic.twitter.com/deWumL33wT— Houston Health Dept (@HoustonHealth) June 24, 2020