With COVID-19 cases on the rise once again, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal is making a push to secure funding for testing in Congress’ budget.
“That is concerning, not a reason for panic but for preparedness,” Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said during a press conference Monday at the Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford.
Health insurers are no longer required to cover the cost of over-the-counter COVID tests, and some federally-qualified health centers have stopped providing free testing in order to free up money for other uses.
But data shows COVID cases are on the rise again: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Connecticut saw an increase of 18 COVID-related hospitalizations in the final week of July.
While only a small number, that represents a jump of 22.7% and is well above the national increase of 12.1% for the same period. It’s also the highest number since April, according to the CDC.
“The resurgence of COVID-19 in our country demands swift action and collaborative efforts,” said Nichelle Mullins, Charter Oak Health Center president and CEO.
She also said the health center, which is required to send testing results to the federal government, saw the positivity rate climb from 13% in June to 18% in July.
The increase comes as the state Department of Public Health has stopped tracking and reporting test results. DPH issued a COVID-19 report on June 1 and won’t release it’s next one until Oct. 5.
DPH also said those reports will continue through the winter and “include data that are relevant to current COVID-19 disease activity and trends and integrate COVID-19 with viral respiratory surveillance reporting, including influenza.”
Mullins said the decision is a “mistake,” though, because the information helps health officials, and the public overall, see when cases are spiking.
“When data is not released to the public, it gives us a false sense of security,” she said.
She said the information also helps notify the public about new strains and new symptoms. The World Health Organization has added the ERIS variant to its monitoring list as the strain has spread through both the U.S. and U.K.
Blumenthal wants Congress to help by offering more aid for testing. Congress does not have an allocation for COVID tests in its budget, but Blumenthal said lawmakers can help by providing more funding for public health programs.
He estimated the cost of a program like testing would be “in the range of $791 million.”
“Testing and data collection are the key to understanding and meeting these challenges,” he said, agreeing with Mullins that he wants to see state health officials, including in Connecticut, continue to collect and report data.
Blumenthal stopped short of requiring reporting as a condition for funding, though, saying he’d rather find another incentive for states.
“We should provide access to testing — that’s a must,” he said.
Blumenthal also voiced his support for the bipartisan Pandemic and All-Hazards Act, which would reauthorize the original Pandemic and All-Hazards Act that was put into place in 2006.
The bill would also expand the original act to include more support for research, add surge capacity during pandemics, continue wastewater surveillance for viruses, and ensure drug manufacturers communicate with federal officials when there might be shortage of medicines.
The bill would also require states to create crisis standards of care that protect older people and those with disabilities and task federal agencies with examining whether artificial intelligence poses risks to public health.