Tucson talks about ending free COVID testing

City follows the county lead

Free testing on the chopping block

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The City of Tucson has begun discussions about ending free testing at two of its sites, Udall Park on the east-side and El Pueblo center on the south-side.

According to Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega, the El Pueblo site had just 18 people seeking a COVID-19 test last weekend. It costs the city $15,000 a day to maintain.

And Tucson has run out of federal funding to keep the site running and has begun to use general fund dollars to pay for free testing.

There is some concern about ending free testing on the south-side of Tucson, which has been hard-hit by the virus; and where many in the population would likely not be able to afford the $120 price tag.

But Pima County, at its March 2 meeting, will discuss whether to scrap the entire program.

Even if it did, there are other places around the county that could provide the tests, but at a cost.

Pima County estimates it has spent $41 million on testing, money which has only been partially reimbursed.

Back up a moment to see how it’s come to this.

Congress appropriated $418 million for testing for the State of Arizona and sent it to Governor Doug Ducey to disperse among the counties, cities and towns to pay for expenses.

That money arrived in Arizona on January 14, 2021.

The issue is, the state has been sitting on the money, and using it for other purposes.

When the counties finally balked, the state coughed up $100 million and distributed it to the counties on a pro rata basis based on their population.

Trouble is, Pima County was the only one offering free testing and says it was unfair for the state to use it as a distribution criteria.

It feels it should be based on expenditures.

It is crafting a letter to send to the Department of Health and Human Services asking that future payments and vaccine distribution be sent directly to the county, bypassing the state. In the meantime, it wants the Biden Administration to pressure the state to give the county the disbursements it feels it is entitled to.

Meantime, health officials are concerned about the lack of contact tracing and variants which will be hard, if not impossible, to track without a coordinated testing program.

But given a choice, which is the corner they feel they’ve been painted into by the state, and most will chose a robust vaccination program rather than testing.

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