The Mayor of Phoenix said she only found out the city was getting a 'significant' federal coronavirus testing site from a tweet

salarshani@businessinsider.com (Sarah Al-Arshani)
  • Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told Business Insider she only found out west Phoenix was getting a 'significant' federal testing site through a tweet.

  • The mayor had been calling for federal help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to increase testing in the city.

  • Arizona has turned into the epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak, surpassing 100,000 cases this week.

  • The bulk of those cases are in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

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Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said she's been calling for additional resources to help the city tackle the coronavirus outbreak, including requesting help from the federal government for increased testing capacity.

The mayor told Business Insider that her requests were denied for months.

On Wednesday, she learned that west Phoenix would be getting additional federal help for testing.

"I found out by Twitter," Gallego told Business Insider.

"So I, for several months, have been asking for a large-scale federal testing site. Our peer cities, such as Houston, received them, and the federal government at the time originally said we didn't have enough COVID-19 cases to qualify," Gallego told Business Insider. "Now, they had told me they're really moving towards smaller-scale testing sites that do 50 people at a time, led by local and state governments."

She then told Martha Raddatz on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that she requested community-based testing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and her request was essentially ignored.

"I requested it on a television program, and then shortly after the White House followed up. They connected me with the admiral in charge of testing. And I made the test requests again," Gallego said. "I understand we are going to now get a significant federal site in west Phoenix. And so that is wonderful news."

During Wednesday's coronavirus task force briefing, US Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir took issue with Gallego's claims, said there are retail testing sites that are federally funded in Phoenix, and said that west Phoenix would be getting a "surge site."

"It was clear to me that Phoenix was not in tune with all the things that the state were doing," Admiral Giroir said on Wednesday during the briefing. "We convened a call last night, where we had Governor Ducey's people on the phone, where we had the mayor's people on the phone, where we had various health officials Screenshot/FOX 10 Phoenixon the phone. We got everybody together, understood where the gaps are."

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego

Screenshot/FOX 10 Phoenix

Gallego didn't have any additional information on when the site would be up and running, or what its capacity would be.

FEMA did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Arizona has emerged as a major COVID-19 hotspot in the US

The state's first case was discovered in late January. In the five months that followed that initial case, Arizona had roughly 50,000 cases.

In just two weeks, the state's cases doubled. Coronavirus cases in Arizona are surging with over 108,000 cases, the bulk of which, more than 70,000, are in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located.

Arizona also has the highest rate of positive coronavirus tests in the US. Around one in four tests that are administered come back positive, which indicates that there is not enough widespread testing.

Gallego said she hasn't received much support from the federal government.

"The president has visited Phoenix twice," she said. "The vice president visited last week. They have not been interested in hearing from me, both the vice president and the president has held events at city facilities, but they did not ask how we were doing or what we needed."

The White House did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment at the time of publication.

She told Business Insider that she'd visited testing centers where people had to wait hours in the blazing heat to be administered a test, and many had to wait days or even weeks to get the results.

Her office told Business Insider that city employees like librarians and park workers were now assisting health providers in the city to run testing sites. While these employees aren't administering tests, they are working to man and ensure testing locations are functioning. While the county has a health department, the city itself does not.

Gallego said at the beginning of the pandemic she coordinated with other mayors in the state to put safety requirements in place including the use of masks. However, once Gov. Doug Ducey implemented a stay-at-home order "he preempted mayors from doing additional protection."

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, right, speaks as Vice President Mike Pence, left, watches after the two held a meeting to discuss the surge in coronavirus cases in Arizona Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Phoenix.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, right, speaks as Vice President Mike Pence, left, watches after the two held a meeting to discuss the surge in coronavirus cases in Arizona Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Phoenix.

Ross D. Franklin/AP Images

She reinstated face mask requirements once Ducey allowed localities to make safety requirement decisions at the city level. However, she said the mixed messaging could have had a negative effect.

"I'm obviously deeply concerned about hospital capacity in my community and the ability of our healthcare system to respond to this increase in cases," Gallego said. "I want to give our doctors and nurses the best chance that I can. I think people want consistency and they want us to work together. So I'm trying to make requests through the governor's office if that's what the governor's office prefers."

Business Insider attempted to reach the governor's office for comment.

The mayor said the city needs both short term assistance to get the outbreak under control and a long term plan to help mitigate the economic and social effects from the pandemic.

coronavirus testing
A person is tested for the coronavirus.

Getty

"We need additional medical personnel. We need financial support for our healthcare institutions, particularly like our county hospital safety net system. We need financial support so that no one is driven to work because they need it to pay their bills," Gallego said.

"The eviction moratorium in Arizona expires on the 22nd," she continued. "I'm concerned that people who are sick will go out because they need to keep a roof over their house and food. So we need support so that people can meet their essential needs while they are sick."

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