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HHS sets up free COVID-19 testing in select cities in response to COVID-19 outbreaks

The department is partnering with eTrueNorth and the local communities to perform up to 5,000 tests per day in each city.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

The Department of Health and Human Services will begin temporarily providing free COVID-19 testing in Jacksonville, Florida; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Edinburg, Texas in response to recent outbreaks in those locations.

HHS is partnering with eTrueNorth and each of the local communities to perform up to 5,000 tests per day in each city. The free tests will be made available for between five and 12 days.

It should take between three and five days for people tested at these locations to get their results back. While people wait, HHS recommends that they continue to social distance, wear masks and practice good hygiene. If a person has any symptoms of COVID-19 or knows that they came in contact with someone who is already infected, they should self-isolate while waiting for test results to come back.

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Anyone who is five years and older is eligible to get tested at the surge locations, even if they aren't residents of the community where the site is located. Individuals under 18 years old must have a parent or legal guardian present to be tested.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

When deciding which cities the surge testing would take place in, HHS created a list of metros that had an increased number of cases and the testing infrastructure to handle up to 5,000 tests a day.

These three cities were chosen because they have had "significant increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and could potentially benefit from additional opportunities to identify new cases, especially for people who are asymptomatic," according to HHS.

The department created a hypothesis that a surge in testing in specific locations might be able to help flatten the curve in those states, especially among the 18 to 29 age group that has seen the largest increase in positive COVID-19 tests.

The surge testing locations will not be a replacement to the programs that states already have in place, HHS said.

However, if this can be successfully implemented and have an impact in decreasing the number of cases, HHS said it is willing to help other states create similar programs as well as selecting other cities to have a federal surge in.

THE LARGER TREND

The most recent COVIDView from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that although the national COVID-19 levels are lower than in past months, the number of cases is increasing in most regions.

To date, there have been over 37 million reported tests in the U.S. and HHS hopes to ramp those numbers up to help flatten the curve.

ON THE RECORD

"The Trump Administration is doubling-down on support to areas hard hit by COVID-19. Standing up surge testing sites is one of many tools we are utilizing now to assist local leadership to reduce community spread," said Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at HHS, in a statement. "Data, including positive rates and demographic information, will inform how to shift state and local resources to reduce the occurrence of COVID-19."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org