Lab that provides free COVID-19 tests running short on state funds

Coronavirus

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The holiday testing surge put a strain on facilities across the state that offer free COVID-19 tests.

Depending on the day, IMMY Labs says it provides as much as 25 percent of the testing across Oklahoma, but the state funding it uses to provide free tests could run out as soon as Thursday.

“As CARES Act money starts to run out, what’s next?” IMMY President and CEO Dr. Sean Bauman said. “We are in the middle of having these conversations with OSDH about additional funding to carry us through to the end of the calendar year.”

Over a normal week, IMMY does around 15,000 tests statewide, but over Thanksgiving that number doubled. Dr. Bauman says he’s hopeful they can secure additional state funding.

“Especially as we head into another holiday season where people will be around family members that are at higher risk for severe disease. It’s really important that they go into the holiday knowing their testing status,” Dr. Bauman said.

Dr. Bauman says the lab is already taking steps to continue offering free COVID-19 tests into next week, but that may mean fewer people get tested.

News 4 asked the State Department of Health about the IMMY Labs funding issue. Deputy Commissioner of Health Travis Kirkpatrick sent us the following statement”

“We have run an unprecedented number of COVID-19 tests in the last two weeks in the lead up to the Thanksgiving holiday. One of the state’s top labs, IMMY, alone ran 32,000 tests in the last 10 days. We encouraged Oklahomans to get tested ahead of the holiday, and we are confident that testing helped slow the spread and saved lives. We will continue to encourage Oklahomans to get tested.

Federal CARES Act funding has allowed the state to test Oklahomans for COVID-19 free of charge since the beginning of the pandemic. Unlike many other states, Oklahoma has made a strong push for widespread testing, encouraging testing early and often for anyone who feared they had been exposed to COVID-19, whether they had symptoms or not. We know this caught countless asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases before they could spread the virus to countless other Oklahomans. Our robust testing program has undoubtedly helped save Oklahoma lives. We went from having state lab capabilities to run no more than 100 tests a day at the beginning of the pandemic, to having one lab alone being able to run 32,000 tests in 10 days. It is a tremendous accomplishment of which the Oklahoma people should be proud.

Of course, testing, while free to Oklahomans, hasn’t been free for the state, and with federal CARES Act funding running out at the end of the year, we always knew how the state is paying for testing would have to be re-evaluated. We are confident we can continue free testing through the end of the year to ensure every Oklahoman that needs a test can be tested. Testing will remain a critical component to our state’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy. But we are also looking to diversify the testing funding streams, including having private insurance pay for Oklahomans who have it. We are also evaluating other sources of funding we can put toward testing in 2021. We are confident we will be able to continue testing at the levels needed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Oklahoma.”

TRAVIS KIRKPATRICK, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER OF HEALTH

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