Why does Trump want to cut COVID testing and what happens if he does?

When President Donald Trump’s administration announced on June 24 that he would be cutting off federal funding for COVID-19 testing in the U.S., it caused the nation to do a double-take. Why would the president call off federal support for testing in the middle of a pandemic? Why does Trump say he wants to end COVID-19 testing?

Mounting evidence suggests that Trump wants to reduce funding for tests, so that less people will be tested and numbers of reported cases will decrease. However, this doesn’t mean that these cases don’t exist— just that they tested and diagnosed, denying proper treatment to patients who go untested. 

So far, four members of Congress have written to Trump, asking him to reconsider. Without FEMA resources to fund testing, containing the spread of coronavirus would become even more difficult. 

“We need the support of FEMA now more than ever as our communities and the state of Texas see unprecedented growth in cases of the coronavirus disease,” they wrote to Trump. One of the letter-writers is Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat whose district includes a large expanse of Houston’s east side. 

Reporters followed up with Trump about his comments regarding coronavirus testing, as the president has a history of coming back with an “I’m just kidding.” Even his aides suggested Trump said his remarks in jest. Those reporters were met with a harsh reality.

“I don’t kid,” Trump told reporters on June 23.

What is actually happening? 

However, Trump’s statements to the press are contradictory to what Health and Human Services officials say is happening.

HHS officials told CBS News that, contrary to Trump’s words, testing wasn’t being shut down— just transitioned to more effective formats which require less federal funding with greater testing volumes. The federal money funding tests were received via the Paycheck Protection Program, and states are shifting gears from testing at federally funded sites to pharmacies and other testing methods. 

So while Trump’s statements are accurate in the barest sense of the term, states are shifting to models which no longer rely on this funding. Testing will still happen, but it will not be done at FEMA testing centers once funding runs out. HHS official Admiral Brett Giroir told CBS News that the change in funding is simply “shifting to more testing and of higher quality.”

The issue is the timing. States which have become new hot spots for COVID-19—like Arizona, Texas, and Florida—still say they need that federal funding to ramp up community-based testing centers in proportion with daily increases in cases. 

Sources: The Guardian, New York Mag, CBS News

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