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Free COVID-19 testing could end without more funding

COVID-19 testing
Posted at 5:27 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 23:15:28-04

AKRON, Ohio — Throughout the pandemic, federal funding has played a crucial role in helping many local health departments provide free COVID-19 testing, some treatment and vaccinations.

But now, there's some concern on both the federal and local levels that COVID-19 spending could run out and put some people in a bind unless Congress acts to replenish funds.

This week, The White House warned that without more funding, the U.S. will not have enough additional boosters or variant-specific vaccines, if needed, for all Americans and that the federal government is unable to purchase additional life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments and will run out of supply to send to states as soon as May.

"The federal government will be unable to sustain the testing capacity we built over the last 14 months as we head into the second half of the year," according to a fact sheet released by The White House.

During the pandemic, the lines at Summit County Public Health for COVID-19 testing and vaccines have fluctuated depending on which variant invaded and how much it spread.

"All of this costs a lot of money to run and we really need to make sure we can do it because it was so deadly. We lost a lot of lives," said Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.

Skoda said operational costs during the height of the pandemic were between $500,000 and $600,000, and without the federal funding, SCPH likely would have faced the option of passing on administrative fees to residents.

The health commissioner said state funding will likely carry Summit County through 2022, but she also expressed concern if a federal bill isn't passed to provide more funding.

"We need to have it there in case you need it because we don't know what lies ahead. There could be another virus coming down the pike," she said.

Skoda said 75,000 vaccines have been administered through the health department over two years. In recent months, the number of vaccinations drastically dropped. There were 1,682 vaccinations in December, as the Omicron variant took hold. In February, there were only 111.

She said future testing and vaccinations may no longer be free without more money flowing in to help with costs. She believes that would create barriers to lower-income residents or those who don't have insurance.

"Historically, individuals who don't have insurance, a lot of times don't seek care because they know they're going to get a medical bill. They know they're going to be billed. They might be put in a collection," Skoda said.

While some Republicans have raised questions over where COVID-19 funding has been spent so far and how much unspent money is left, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown worries about being caught off guard with an unpredictable virus.

"I think there's a good chance it's in the rearview mirror, but we can't take the chance of another outbreak without being prepared," Brown said.

Whether Congress acts to approve additional COVID-19 money is up in the air, but Brown says he's in favor of it.

"Congress needs to vote the money. The President wants us to do it. He'll sign the bill and we'll be better prepared if something else happens, God forbid."