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Thursday, March 4th, 2021

FEMA pushes increased COVID-19 testing, community testing sites and reimbursement

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One of the areas the United States has struggled with during the COVID-19 pandemic is testing capacity, but now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is moving to expand testing, testing sites and supplies, and federal reimbursement efforts.

All of this is meant to be in line with the federal Guidelines for Opening America Up Again, despite intermittent attempts to push for earlier opening dates. Those guidelines call for a phased reopening built on governmental and public-private partnerships, strategic guidance on using available technologies and expanding test capacity, the development of individual state testing plans and rapid response programs, and making full use of available testing resources. FEMA will support this by sourcing and procuring testing material such as swabs and transport media, which will, in turn, be provided to states, territories, and tribes for a limited time. Distribution will be left up to those respective entities.

Beyond this, FEMA intends to lead a joint federal Laboratory Diagnostics Task Force to increase testing and support state reopening efforts. This has and will take a few forms, such as helping identify additional testing capacity and platforms, working with diagnostic test developers and manufacturers to develop and scale-up capabilities, expanding reporting options for hospital diagnostic testing data, and interagency cooperation to evaluate and expand serological diagnostic testing.

FEMA is also working by community through the Community-Based Testing Sites program, designed to help partners approve locations for local testing. Since its founding, the program has helped establish best practices for sample collection and approved 41 federal locations as testing sites, leading to 137,796 samples as of last month. Now, FEMA says, the program is helping states take control of these facilities, rather than rely on federal management. Public-private partnership efforts have also expanded to include more than 100 sites in 33 states, with an end goal of more than 200 sites in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

At that point, FEMA believes it could perform 15,000 tests per day. Experts have, however, pointed to the many thousands more daily testing totals needed state-by-state to keep the virus under control.

Amidst all this, FEMA has also opened its Public Assistance program to states, territories, tribes, and local governments seeking reimbursement for COVID-19 testing. Only certain activities are eligible, though. Such efforts have been bolstered by supplemental funding provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That funding was funneled through cooperative agreements to get the areas with the highest number of or quickest spreading COVID-19 cases lab equipment, staff, monitoring, infection control, data management, and other supplies. Free coronavirus testing is guaranteed through commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Indian Health Service, and TRI-Care as a result of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which also will provide $1 billion for reimbursement efforts to the uninsured.