Absent Federal Support, Some Towns Lean On Philanthropy For COVID-19 Testing, Tracing

May 27, 2020

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Some rural communities in the Mountain West are reopening without the widespread testing and contact tracing needed to identify and isolate outbreaks of COVID-19. Absent federal dollars, local fundraising can help.

 


"A small community could say, 'Hey, we're just going to figure it out,'" says Christine Porter, a public health professor at the University of Wyoming. "'We're going to fundraise, we're going to buy all the tests we can get and we are going to do our own testing and tracing so that we can safely reopen.'" 

Porter points to one example in Jackson, Wyoming. The nonprofit Community Foundation of Jackson Hole has partnered with the Teton County Public Health Department to underwrite tests for uninsured or underinsured people there. It's paid for around 40 tests so far and expects more than 300 people to participate during a special testing day on Thursday.

"We want everyone to be tested and we want to make certain through vouchers that they show up," says the nonprofit's president, Laurie Andrews. "We want to really know the status of our community – where it stands with this virus." 

Andrews says the foundation has allocated about $10,000 to the project, but stresses that that local fundraising can't be the only tool in the toolbox. 

"Philanthropic dollars cannot cover all of our needs now," she says. "We are hoping to fill this gap until we can make certain that the government side of things will help."

State and local governments in April received $631 million from the federal government to ramp up testing and contact tracing, but some local officials said it was a fraction of what was needed to ensure widespread coverage. Without those measures, public health experts say many communities could be vulnerable to a second wave of infections that may send them back into a stay-at-home order – deepening the economic impact of a pandemic that has shuttered businesses and sent unemployment rates soaring to historic levels. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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