NEW YORK – The US Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday that it will invest more than $1.6 billion to support COVID-19 testing and mitigation in vulnerable communities.
The funding from President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan will be used to expand detection, diagnosis, tracing, and monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 infections in congregate settings, including homeless shelters, treatment and recovery facilities, domestic violence shelters, and correctional facilities.
This new round of funding follows multiple billion-dollar investments in COVID-19 testing in the US. In May, HHS announced $4.8 billion in funding to cover COVID-19 testing for uninsured people, and in April it said it would provide $1 billion for testing in Indian Country. The same month, $10 billion in funding to states was announced to support school testing and screening, although that money has been slow to roll out to individual schools and school districts.
Of the new $1.6 billion investment, $100 million will go to expand testing and mitigation resources for people with mental health and substance use disorders. The new money supplements funding to the substance abuse prevention and treatment and community mental health services block grant for rapid on-site COVID-19 testing, the agency said in a statement.
Funding will also be available to provide behavioral health services to staff working as contact tracers and other members of the COVID-related workforce and training and technical assistance with implementing rapid on-site testing. The assistance includes the development of confidentiality policies, personal protective equipment, supporting mobile health units, and expanding the local and tribal programs workforces to implement COVID response services for those connected to the behavioral health system, HHS said.
An additional $80 million will be used to support testing and mitigation among homeless people, including those in group homes and encampments. Money will be used to hire workers to coordinate resources, develop strategies, and support community partners to prevent transmission, the agency said. State health departments will also use the funds to obtain COVID-19 tests and supplies such as hand-washing stations, masks, and hand sanitizer.
Federal congregate settings will receive $169 million to support routine testing and surveillance in correctional facilities, as well as to support vaccination efforts and provide for hospital costs associated with the virus.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will distribute $700 million to 64 state and local jurisdictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in confinement facilities, such as jails, prisons, and juvenile confinement facilities. These facilities will be able to implement diagnostic and screening programs for incarcerated people, staff, and visitors. The money can also be used for contact tracing, isolation and quarantine strategies, infection control practices, and education and training on minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
Another $550 million is earmarked for state and tribal programs to detect, diagnose, and mitigate infections in adults, children, and youths experiencing domestic and dating violence. It will also support cultural competency training and technical assistance for implementing rapid on-site testing and facilitating access to mobile health unit services for victims and their dependents. Some of that assistance includes enhancing information technology, data modernization, and coordinating confidential reporting with local health departments.
"As we continue the vaccination program to get more Americans protected, it is important that we double down on our efforts to increase testing especially in vulnerable communities," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. He added "we can make sure high-risk environments like correctional facilities and shelters for those experiencing homelessness have greater capacity for testing to prevent potential outbreaks and continue our nation’s progress in moving out of the pandemic."