After two months and more than 15,000 deaths, the nation’s nursing homes still don’t have access to enough tests to help control outbreaks among their frail, elderly residents. Trump refuses to require testing for all residents and staff. An industry group says only about a third of the 15,000 nursing homes in the U.S. have ready access to tests that can help isolate the sick and stop the spread. And homes that do manage to get a hold of tests often rely on luck and contacts. Experts state that 25% of all nursing home residents will die from COVID-19. We may never know. Two-thirds of U.S. nursing homes still don’t have “easy access to test kits” and are struggling to obtain sufficient resources, said Chris Laxton, executive director of The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.
The U.S. is currently testing roughly 125,000 people daily, for a total of 4.5 million results allegedly reported, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.
Public health experts say that needs to be much higher. “We need likely millions of tests a day,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
“It just shows that the longer that states lapse in universal testing of all residents and staff, we’re going to see these kinds of stories for a very long time,” said Brian Lee of the advocacy group Families for Better Care. “Once it’s in, there’s no stopping it and by the time you’re aware with testing, too many people have it. And bodies keep piling up.”
Mark Parkinson, CEO of the American Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities, says “only a very small percentage” of residents and staff have been tested because the federal and state governments have not made nursing homes the top priority.
“We feel like we’ve been ignored,” Parkinson said. “Certainly now that the emphasis has gone away from hospitals to where the real battle is taking place in nursing homes, we should be at a priority level one.”
Public health officials have long argued that current measures like temperature checks aren’t sufficient. They can’t stop workers with the virus who aren’t showing signs from walking in the front door, and they don’t catch such asymptomatic carriers among residents either. What is needed is rigorous and frequent testing — “sentinel surveillance,” White House virus chief Deborah Birx calls it — to find these hidden carriers, isolate them and stop the spread. Maybe she should tell her boss to require it?
Only one governor, West Virginia’s Jim Justice, appears to be mandating testing for all nursing homes without conditions. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan ordered tests at all 26 nursing in the city, using new kits that can spew out results in 15 minutes. Massachusetts abruptly halted a program to send test kits directly to nursing homes this week after 4,000 of them turned out to be faulty. New Hampshire teamed with an urgent-care company to test care workers. Several states including Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Tennessee and Wisconsin have dispatched National Guard testing strike teams.
South Carolina has done nothing and have allowed the nursing homes to cover up COVID-19 related deaths.