Walker County on Monday allotted $200,000 in COVID-relief funds to expand community testing in hopes that August will stamp out a grim summer resurgence of COVID-19 that is now responsible for at least 7,000 confirmed deaths in Texas.
The move by the Walker County Commissioners Court is expected to be paired with an additional $1 million allocation from the city of Huntsville. The project will see both entities partner with the Walker County Hospital District and Huntsville Memorial Hospital at a cost of $250 per test. However, those tests would be free to all city and county residents.
“Getting this program in place is important for Walker County. It not only offers alternative times for people to get tested, but we have a lot of people without insurance or the financial means to get tested,” said Commissioner Bill Daugette (Pct. 3), who initially proposed a $700,000 allotment. “This ensures that everyone who needs to get tested can get tested.”
Walker County has hosted 12 community testing sites at the Walker County Fairgrounds, funded entirely by the state of Texas — accounting for nearly a third of all tests reported to the local emergency management office. Testing will continue at the fairgrounds each Tuesday through the month of August from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The new program would provide testing seven days per week over the next 100 days, with testing occurring in the evening on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday. It will also allow for mobile testing throughout Walker County, including testing at some individual neighborhoods.
Funding for the program will come from a near-$4 million pool of money that has been allocated to both Walker County and the city of Huntsville through the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the CARES Act.
However, the testing expansion was not unanimously supported by commissioners, with Commissioner Danny Kuykendall (Pct. 1) and Ronnie White (Pct. 2) citing timing fears on state reimbursements and a lack of need for additional testing.
“I’ve had guys go out on their own to get tested and the rate was about $150, so from where I’m sitting the hospital stands to make a good chunk of change on this, and if something goes wrong on the reimbursement side, it will be the county and the city left holding the bag,” Kuykendall said.
County auditor Patricia Allen told commissioners that neighboring counties are receiving reimbursements “fairly fast.”
Texas reported more than three dozen new deaths from the virus Monday as the total number of deaths eclipsed 7,000, just two weeks after surpassing 4,000. But during that time, the rate of positive new cases has been trending downward and hospitalizations have leveled off around 9,000, which officials credited to mask wearing and more people staying home.
In Walker County, daily new coronavirus cases have also slowed, with local emergency officials reporting only 83 additional community cases in the past week.
“This program is doing what the state and the feds have asked us to do, and that’s to use this money to help those struggling within our community,” Daugette added.