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Huckelberry asks Pima County to halt COVID-19 testing due to funding shortage

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Posted at 12:28 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 13:45:47-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has proposed that the county stop testing for COVID-19 because the state may not reimburse the costs.

In a Thursday memo to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Huckelberry wrote that an Arizona Department of Health Services official told him that funding Pima County officials believed had been set aside for testing reimbursement had been used for other purposes.

Huckelberry, who cited that the county paid $10.7 million for testing in 2021 while the state only offered $1 million in reimbursement, wrote:

This is unfortunate as it was abundantly clear to Pima County that the State allocation was for COVID-19 testing. At least that was the impression we were left with in reviewing the Federal 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act. We cannot continue to deficit spend and this less than responsible response from the State requires immediate action. At your joint meeting, I ask the Board of Supervisors to consider a motion to approve the suspension of COVID-19 testing as of February 22, 2021.

Board supervisor Matt Heinz calls the lack of funding "very frustrating."

Heinz said the county has given 55,000 tests so far during this pandemic but the county needs financial help to keep up with that pace.

"If we were able to sustain this level of viral testing, we'd have to start cutting department and division budgets across the county impacting services and all sorts of other aspects of people's lives," Heinz said.

Huckelberry has asked the state for about $40 million to cover the cost of testing until Augus, but the state told Pima County it may not be able to cover the entire amount.

Officials said they will be able to provide some level of support to the county though.

Huckelberry calls the state's move a "less than responsible response."

Arizona Health Director Dr. Cara Christ addressed the issue during a visit to the U-of-A.

"So we're working very closely with our counties to get additional testing," Dr. Christ said. "Hopefully they got some new messaging tonight. We do have federal funding that has come to the state. We're working on the budget, but we're looking to pushing that out very quickly. Because we know how important testing is."

Dr. Heinz said testing is crucial for our county leaders to know when and where COVID hot spots are popping up.

"We really need to see when these spikes in the community start happening. We won't have almost any of that data to go on and we really truly will be flying blind. So that puts us all at risk," Heinz said.

The supervisors will meet with the Tucson City Council Friday to discuss the COVID-19 response.