Some coronavirus testing sites around the U.S. plan to close as the federal government ends support for them on Friday.
In the Philadelphia suburbs, Montgomery County has a drive-through site that has tested 250 people a day since March 21.
“It has been a very successful site. We are hoping by the time it closes Friday afternoon that we will have tested a little over 5,000 individuals,” says Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, who chairs the commission in the county of more than 825,000 people.
Montgomery County has been hit hard by the pandemic. By Tuesday the county identified 1,294 positive cases and reported 32 COVID-19-related deaths.
Arkoosh says local officials staffed the site and the federal government provided much-needed testing supplies and access to a lab. “This site came with a contract with LabCorp, who accepted 250 samples from this site every day,” and she says the county is not able to secure the supplies and tests on its own.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells NPR, “Many of the Community-Based Testing Sites (CBTS) are not closing, but rather transitioning to state-managed sites on or about April 10.”
The agency and a spokesperson for FEMA say the CBTS program was intended as a stop-gap to bring testing to critical locations, especially for health care facility workers and first responders.
“The transition will ensure each state has the flexibility and autonomy to manage and operate testing sites within the needs of their specific community and to prioritize resources where they are needed the most,” the HHS spokesperson said.
But that doesn’t satisfy Arkoosh in Montgomery County, who says, “I am understandably disappointed that the supplies and federal contract for lab testing is ending just as we are heading into the surge here in southeastern Pennsylvania.”
Arkoosh says local hospitals do have their own testing sites set up now, but it’s not yet clear if they will be able to handle the extra testing now that the federal help is being withdrawn.