President Donald Trump's administration is quietly ending support for a pair of testing sites in Illinois, along with 11 others in four other states.
The decision to terminate federal funding comes on the heels of Trump's declaration that testing has led to a spike in reported cases across the United States.
"When you do testing to that extent you're going to find more people," the president told followers at a Tulsa rally last weekend. "So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please!"
Some aides to the president, including White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Trump never issued an explicit order on the matter. Navarro told CNN Sunday that the president's remarks were "tongue-in-cheek."
That explanation didn't fly with officials in Illinois.
"President Trump admitted that he wants to slow down coronavirus testing," said Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokesman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker. "And now the federal government will no longer support two testing sites in Illinois."
The Department of Health and Human Services insists the 13 sites in question were always scheduled to be transitioned to local control, and had in fact been given two extra months beyond their original April termination date.
Assistant HHS Secretary Adm. Ben Giroir said in a statement that his agency is actually doing far more testing nationwide.
"The federal government is not ending support for COVID-19 testing sites," Giroir said. "On the contrary, we have expanded from the original 41 sites to over 600 in 48 states and the District of Columbia in the federal bundled payment program to pharmacies, and enabled over 14000 additional pharmacy sites through regulatory flexibility empowering pharmacists and facilitating billing and reimbursement."
Giroir bristled at suggestions that his agency was pulling back from the nation's needing testing regimen.
"The only truthful, but still misleading report in the media, is that we are transitioning 13 sites from the original now antiquated program, to the more efficient and effective testing sites," he said. "I personally spoke with governors from all 5 states involved, and/or their leadership designees, who agreed that it was the appropriate time to transition out of the original 13 sites and into the thousands of new testing options."
Asked at a Wednesday appearance about that conversation, Pritzker seemed to stop short of indicating he was 100% on board with the decision.
"Well, when you say, did we get a say, we were informed," Pritzker said. "In this case, because they've decided this across so many states, we want to make sure testing is widely available, and free to people across our state."
Pritzker promised the state would provide the necessary resources to keep the two testing centers in Peoria and Harwood Heights operating. But some officials in Texas, which is losing seven sites, were less generous with their comments.
"I am respectfully requesting that the federal government continue its full commitment," Houston's Public Health Director David Persse wrote in a letter dated June 20. "Losing the support of the Federal government for testing sites will undoubtedly have catastrophic cascading consequences in the region's ability to adequately test, quarantine, and isolate, ultimately blunting the progression of Covid-19."
Dr. Persse noted that his community has seen a nearly four-fold increase in hospital admissions since May 21st, with Texas as a whole reporting new highs in cases and hospitalizations in recent days.
Pritzker noted at his Wednesday news conference that the Illinois testing regimen is one of the most robust in the nation.
"We're now among the top five states in the country in testing," he said. "And among the large states, we're in the top two or three."