TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Tompkins County officials are moving toward maintaining free surveillance testing for county residents as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage onward, with cases still ascending even as the local vaccination effort begins to take full form.

A resolution was passed by the Tompkins County Health and Human Services Committee at its last meeting (watch in full here), and will subsequently be voted on by the Tompkins County Legislature. It allocates $300,000 more to keep testing free at least through early spring—money that is still supposed to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Before the $300,000 allocation, the county had committed $891,200 to pay for the surveillance testing, which allows county residents to seek a test at one of Cayuga Health’s sampling sites regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms or had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. FEMA is expected to reimburse the county for $668,400 of the $891,200, leaving $222,800 of local costs. With the new funding, over $1 million has now been dedicated to providing surveillance testing and more FEMA reimbursement will be sought.

People can seek testing at either the Shops at Ithaca Mall site or downtown at a location at 410 North Tioga Street.

During the meeting, County Administrator Jason Molino said the funding should last until the end of March 2021, as long as the testing demand that has been seen the last several weeks maintains a similar rate. He confirmed that the first FEMA reimbursement has been approved at the federal level and is awaiting the state’s approval before the money comes through.

“The County Administrator is authorized to continue the agreement with Cayuga Health System to provide free community surveillance testing for Tompkins County residents,” the resolution states. “The Director of Finance is hereby authorized to appropriate from the 2021 Contingent fund a total of $300,000 to be transferred to the Public Health Department budget accounts (…) to pay for the local cost of COVID-19 community surveillance testing expenses.”

Cayuga Health System instituted a rule earlier this year that out-of-county residents would need to pay $99 in order to receive a test, but that came as the county began to provide funding that made COVID-19 testing free of charge for those living within Tompkins County. This is the third time they have renewed that funding.

Comments during the meeting, and the resolution itself, acknowledge the importance of surveillance testing and the potential role it has played in keeping the COVID-19 pandemic mostly at bay.

“I don’t see any huge reason why anyone would be opposed to this,” HHS member Deborah Dawson said. “It’s a huge and important piece of trying to keep our numbers down.” HHS Chair Shawna Black echoed the sentiment.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com