Federally funded Texas testing sites granted partial extension after outcry

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“Federal public health officials have been in continuous contact with our public health leaders in Texas, and after receiving yesterday’s request for an extension, have agreed to extend support for five community-Based Testing Sites in Texas,” Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett P. Giroir said in a statement on Friday. “We will continue to closely monitor Covid-19 diagnoses and assess the need for further federal support of these sites as we approach the extension date.”

The program is still set to expire on June 30 for eight remaining sites across the country.

The federal assistance will include additional federal resources in Dallas and Houston, where the virus has made a heavy impact, according to a press release from Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

“I thank our federal partners for extending these operations in Texas, and for their flexibility in allocating their resources to the communities of Dallas and Houston that are experiencing a high number of COVID-19 cases right now,” Abbott said in a statement.

The federally funded testing program was intended to jump-start initial capabilities in critical areas across the US, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But given Food and Drug Administration approval for individuals to self-administer nasal swab tests at sites, the demand for personal protective equipment and trained health care providers will be reduced, a FEMA spokesperson said in a statement in April, when the administration began its transition away from the program.
The latest debate over federal funding comes after President Donald Trump on Saturday lamented the rise in coronavirus cases in the US, blaming increased testing.

At a campaign rally over the weekend, he said coronavirus testing was “a double-edged sword.”

“I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please,”http://rss.cnn.com/” the President added.

Vice President Mike Pence claimed on Friday that “all 50 states and territories across this country are opening up safely and responsibly” even as cases surge in many states, and eight states have paused their reopening efforts.

Pence also said he will soon visit some of the states currently hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic — including states where the President recently held political events where attendees weren’t required to wear face masks or social distance.

Asked why he and Trump moved forward with campaign events even as public health experts advised against large gatherings, the vice president referenced the constitutional rights to speech and free assembly.

“The freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States,” Pence said. “We have an election coming up this fall. And President Trump and I believe that taking proper steps … and giving people the very best counsel that we have, we still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process. And we respect that.”

CNN’s Brad Parks, Lauren Fox, Priscilla Alvarez, Ali Zaslav, Daniella Diaz and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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