PHOENIX — State health officials on Friday doled out $100 million in federal funds to the state’s counties to help boost local testing for covid-19. Mohave County’s share of that money is nearly $3 million. La Paz County will get $390,000.
The announcement comes a day after Pima County Administrator said he would ask supervisors to stop testing after he said the state has failed to live up to its promise to reimburse the county. But Health Director Cara Christ said the move has nothing to do with that and that the plan already was in the works.
In fact, Christ said that the county is mistaken if it thinks it’s going to get repaid for all of that $10.7 million it already spent out of its own coffers for testing. And she denied that was ever promised.
“I think that the county’s a little confused on a couple of points,’’ she said. “The funding that is coming cannot be used for reimbursement.’’
And what of all the tests done?
“That was a strategy that Pima County wanted to provide free testing to all of the providers,’’ Christ said, rather than setting up a system to bill the insurance companies of individuals who have coverage. “That’s a little bit different than what we normally do with healthcare testing.’’
So that $14.36 million in Friday’s announcement, she said, can be used only for expenses from Jan. 15 forward.
Huckelberry said that’s not acceptable, vowing to seek review and, if necessary, appeal to the appropriate federal agencies.
“We have a public health agency not recognizing that January was the worst so far,’’ he said, which is why the county stepped up to provide testing.
So what is the county out with Christ’s decision?
He figures Pima County has been conducting about 3,000 tests a day. Take the first 14 days of the month — the time when Christ said the state won’t pay -- and multiply that by $191 cost of a test, that’s more than $8 million.
Huckelberry is no more happy with how the state is dividing up the $100 million.
Christ said a decision was made to provide a base of $100,000 to each of the state’s 15 counties. Then the balance was allocated based on population.
But the county administrator said that fails to acknowledge that many counties have no testing program of their own at all. Meanwhile, he said, 65% of the tests done in Pima County were done by county government.
Christ, however, figures part of that is the county’s own fault for picking up the tab. She said they could have arranged, as occurs in some other places, to see if people have health insurance and bill those firms accordingly instead of taking it out of taxpayer dollars.
Anyway, she said that her team did manage to find $1 million in other dollars that the county could use to pay for services at Paradigm Labs “to keep them going until they get this funding.’’ But even those dollars, Christ said, are not a reimbursement.
“It was to continue testing activities,’’ she said, saying any new dollars will be “a moving forward opportunity.’’
Anyway, Christ said, the state has been helping.
“We’ve been paying for airport testing since Jan. 1 and those types of activites,’’ she said, with in-terminal testing for travelers and a site outside the terminal for non-travelers.
“But this federal money, it’s for activities from Jan. 15 on,’’ Christ said.
And what of the county’s belief that it was promised reimbursement?
“I don’t remember us agreeing to that,’’ she said.
While the state is funneling more federal dollars into local testing, Christ acknowledged that the overall level of testing is down. But she said that’s not a surprise.
She said that more cases being reported tends to lead to more people hoping to find out if they’ve contracted the virus.
“And as we tend to go down in cases, people tend to drop off for testing,’’ Christ said. But that’s not necessarily a good idea.
“We would recommend that anybody that thinks they’ve been infected with or exposed to COVID-19 still get tested,’’ she said. “We know that asymptomatic spread can happen.’’
And even people who have been inoculated may need to get tested, too.
“We know that no vaccine is 100% effective,’’ Christ explained.
“That’s why, in addition to getting people vaccinated to reduce severity and length of symptoms and all of that, that’s why we work so hard to get the community vaccinated,’’ she continued. “The less people that can be impacted by the disease, the better it is for those people that can’t get vaccinated or who the vaccine didn’t work in.’’
That, then, goes to the question of trying to achieve “herd immunity,’’ the point at which there are enough people either vaccinated or with antibodies so that the virus cannot spread as easily.
Christ said that can’t happen now because the demand for the vaccine still far exceeds the supply. It won’t be until that situation is reversed, she said, that there will be a big push to convince people to “roll up their sleeves.’’
She said that will involve tailoring the communications strategy.
One will be working with what Christ calls “vaccine-hesitant’’ groups. That means providing more information to answer their questions and getting “trusted leaders’’ to promote vaccination.
And then doctors themselves will have to talk up the idea.
FUNDS BY COUNTY
Apache -- $1.09 M
Cochise -- $1.9 M
Coconino -- $2.06 M
Gila -- $840,000
Graham -- $623,000
Greenlee -- $230,000
La Paz -- $390,000
Maricopa -- $60.63 M
Mohave -- $2.98 M
Navajo -- $1.62 M
Pima -- $14.36 M
Pinal -- $6.24 M
Santa Cruz -- $751,000
Yavapai -- $3.28 M
Yuma -- $3.01 M
Source: Arizona Department of Health Services