Even as Los Angeles County sees an uptick in cases, the county is reducing its free COVID-19 testing sites after the federal funding for it was depleted, authorities said.

A pool of funds that helped provide free testing to uninsured people was “completely exhausted” last month, and the federal government is no longer able to send providers and counties the money to cover testing, L.A. County Health and Human Services Director Christina Ghaly said Tuesday.

L.A. County has had to remove 25 community testing sites from the county’s COVID-19 arsenal since they were no longer able to continue providing the free testing as of March 22.

This is happening as a $10 billion COVID-19 spending bill stalls in the U.S. Senate.

While federal funding has dried up, Ghaly said L.A. County still plans to continuing offering free COVID-19 testing, including to those without health insurance, using other sources of funding.

“We will keep doing this as long as possible,” Ghaly said.

The county is at risk of having to shoulder paying another $5 to $10 million per month to cover COVID-19 testing for people who are “unbillable,” either because they don’t have insurance or because they’re not providing accurate insurance information, Ghaly told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

“We’re also hopeful that there will be a federal solution to this problem and that the federal government will again fund the uninsurance pool in the future,” she added. “I strongly encourage individuals without insurance to continue to see COVID testing if they have a reason to be tested.”

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis raised concerns that L.A. County could see another surge by the time more funding is approved by the Senate.

“I think the Senate is, I’m hearing, they’re unlikely to vote on a package this week — probably won’t come back until after Easter break. By that time, we can see an increase in this variant that’s currently impacting us,” Solis said.

County health authorities have noticed small increases in new COVID-19 cases, but it remains unclear whether there could be another major surge.

While the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has remained steady and deaths continue to decrease, the spread of the highly contagious BA.2 omicron subvariant and some recent outbreaks at schools in L.A. have raised some concerns.

The proportion of cases caused by BA.2 has increased, accounting for 32% of sequence specimens during the week of March 12, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

That’s double the percentage seen the week before.

L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this mirrors trends seen across the country.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that, as of April 2, the dominant variant in the U.S. is BA.2, accounting for about 72% of sequenced cases nationwide.

“Although case rates of COVID-19 are lower now than during the surge in L.A. County, we do want to be prepared for the possibility that BA.2 or other variants of concern could require additional interventions,” Ferrer said Tuesday.

Up until recently, the county had been seeing daily case numbers fall since the winter surge and authorities have eased COVID-19 restrictions.

Masks became optional at many indoor locations, and venues are no longer required to verify people’s vaccine status.

Now, rates are beginning to level off and cases are no longer declining.

Officials are watching several indicators, including the spread of BA.2, to see whether rules need to be modified.

Ghaly noted that the county is keeping its agreements in place so that authorities are able to ramp testing back up if needed.

For now, people without health insurance can still find a free county testing site to go to if they need it.

They also have the option to order free at-home COVID-19 test kits from the federal government.

Those with health insurance are encouraged to provide their information when signing up for a test, so the county won’t have to pay for it.

“We’re asking people to use their insurance if they have it because then the testing partner, whether it’s our contracted one or another provider, can bill for insurance,” Ghaly said. “So either way, the individual getting the test doesn’t have to pay anything out of pocket, but they’re providing their insurance information, and then there’s no cost to the county.”