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In Reversal, Federal Support For Coronavirus Testing Sites Continues

The Department of Health and Human Services is stepping back from a plan to end support on Friday for community-based coronavirus testing sites around the country.

Instead, the agency says local authorities can choose whether they want to transition to running the programs themselves or continue with federal oversight and help.

The news came after NPR reported Wednesday that some local officials were critical of plans to end the program before the pandemic peaks.

"The federal government is not abandoning any of the community-based test sites. I want that to be loud and clear," Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, said during a conference call with reporters.

Under the community-based testing site program, the federal government supplies expertise, testing materials, protective equipment and lab contracts to local authorities at 41 sites.

Giroir says the program has been successful, testing more than 77,000 people so far, mostly health care workers and first responders. He says results show about 20% of those tested were infected with the coronavirus.

In suburban Philadelphia, Montgomery County officials said they would have had to close a testing site without federal help.

"I'm extremely relieved that HHS has reversed its decision," says Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.

Dean and five other Pennsylvania members of Congress, including Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, signed a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar asking him to reverse the decision.

"It was very counterintuitive and would have been detrimental to public health to stop the testing here in Montgomery County," says Dean.

HHS and FEMA previously said the plan had always been to end federal help on April 10. They say the program was designed as a stopgap until states, local governments and hospitals could get their own testing programs running.

While many hospitals and other medical facilities do have their own testing sites now, health officials warn there still needs to be more testing to stop the coronavirus from spreading.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues, climate change and the mid-Atlantic region. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.