HHS responds to worries over test site changes

Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir says the sites were always meant to be temporary

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, arrives to testify at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, arrives to testify at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 24, 2020 at 5:34pm

Corrected July 7 | The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday sought to address concerns as the administration shifts the last of its COVID-19 community testing sites to state control, saying federal aid would come in a different form.

The 13 sites in Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Texas are the last federally run sites out of 41 originally established across the country. Seven sites are in hard-hit Texas, where cases are climbing. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said the sites were always meant to be a temporary solution as the country worked to ramp up testing capacity in traditional health care settings.

Giroir said the 13 sites will continue to get federal funding through $11 billion recently provided to states to aid with testing. The transitioning sites will also continue to receive federally acquired supplies.

“Let me say definitively that we are moving to increase testing, both the numbers, the quantity and the targeting on social vulnerability,” he said. “And we will continue to do that and that is what the mantra is of this organization.”

The United States is currently conducting between 15 million and 20 million tests per week, with the goal of performing between 40 million and 50 million this fall.

Since establishing the first community testing site in March, Giroir said, the agency has established financial agreements with around 600 pharmacies to conduct testing, in addition to another 1,000 pharmacies providing tests under “regulatory flexibility.” Another 1,400 federally qualified health centers are providing testing in 13,000 locations with funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

President Donald Trump on Saturday told a rally in Tulsa, Okla., that he had instructed officials to “slow down” on testing, saying the increased case count is making the country look bad. Officials including Giroir told the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday that they had received no such directive, a point that Giroir reiterated on a call with reporters Wednesday.

“No one has told me, suggested, intimated, passed a note, given a hint, sent a carrier pigeon to say that we should decrease testing,” he said. “And, in fact, it’s just the opposite.”

Correction: This report was revised to reflect the frequency of tests conducted was per month.