King Co. health officials warn some COVID-19 testing sites may close unless more funding is provided

There is concern from King County health officials that if there isn't more federal funding for next year, some COVID-19 testing sites may have to shut down.

As it stands right now, officials are crunching the numbers to see how much the county will receive from the latest stimulus package, but initial reports are that it is not sustainable, said officials.

Since the pandemic started, the best defense people had were social distancing, masking up, and testing. It remains the case, for now, but the battle for health officials is weighing thin.

Related: COVID-19 timeline: How the pandemic unfolded over 1 year

"We really are running on fumes, as you know, given the nine months solid of COVID-19 outbreak response that we've all been engaged in," said Jeffrey Duchin, MD, Public Health Seattle - King County, public health officer.

Now, the battle against coronavirus transitions into vaccine implementation. And while it is welcome news, it may come at the sacrifice of COVID-19 testing sites.

Related: Operation Warp Speed slows to a trickle with vaccinations

"If we don't have the funding to meet our payroll, to pay for the people at our testing sites, we will not be able to keep them open," said Ingrid Ulrey, Public Health Policy Director for Public Health Seattle - King County.

According to Ulrey, about $7-billion is earmarked for testing. And while it sounds like a lot, if you divide that among 50 states and territories, and then into respective counties, there is concern it won't be enough to sustain current levels. Especially with robust vaccine rollout. 

"There's been billions of dollars spent at the federal level to develop the vaccine, yet a tiny fraction of that has come to jurisdictions like ours who actually work to put shots in arms," said Ulrey.

In partnership with private health providers, King County runs seven high capacity COVID-19 testing sites. It doesn't come cheap, said Ulrey.

"The burn rate, if you will, of running those high volume testing sites is $5-million a month. So it's very expensive," said Ulrey.

But in order to stop the spread, the focus cant' solely be on vaccination. Testing is predicted to be needed at current levels well into 2021. So, for now, health officials are waiting on pins and needles once again to see if more funding will be provided. 

"The budget outlook is very uncertain. The level of federal dollars that's now passed by Congress, we don't know how much of that will flow to King County," said Ulrey.

There is enough funding allocation to last until February, but after that remains a huge question mark Ulrey said.