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Pennsylvania sets date for nursing homes to complete initial baseline testing for coronavirus

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The Wolf administration today issued a universal testing order requiring all nursing homes to complete initial baseline testing no later than July 24.

Additionally, the department issued updated testing guidance to all long-term care facilities through the Health Alert Network.

“Our goal with implementing this universal testing in nursing homes is to rapidly detect asymptomatic positive residents, manage their care and prevent further transmission of COVID-19 in these living settings,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said. “We are working tirelessly to include all long-term care facilities in this strategy as soon as possible. At this point, we are able to successfully expand testing and support to all staff and residents to further protect those in nursing homes across Pennsylvania.”

Between May 11 and May 26, the department implemented a universal testing pilot project in five long-term care facilities across Pennsylvania. The department is also working closely with additional facilities to implement universal testing by providing testing supplies, access to the Bureau of Laboratories and staffing support through the National Guard to train and assist with swabbing.

Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, a nonprofit trade association representing more than 360 nonprofit senior housing, health care and community services in Pennsylvania, questioned how the details are supposed to work.

“We appreciate that the Department of Health released definitive guidance on mandated testing to get a baseline and prevent further asymptomatic spread of COVID-19, which we know is critical for our long-term care facilities,” he said in a press release. “What the plan does not appear to do is provide the clear means for how our members are to make this happen. The Emergency CARES Act funding approved last week provides relief for the costs long-term care facilities already incurred during the pandemic, but as new positive cases are confirmed through universal testing, the need for additional resources will grow. Staff replacement and additional costs for care for newly identified positive cases will create a significant strain on providers.”

More than 75 long-term care facilities have completed widespread testing, and the number of tests in long-term care facilities has increased 48 percent over the last two weeks, bringing the percent of positive cases in this population to its lowest level since the start of the outbreak, according to the Department of Health.

Additionally, the department shared further information on the testing requirements and frequently asked questions.

The updated testing guidance the department issued to all long-term care facilities, according to the Department of Health, focuses on:

• Keeping COVID-19 out of the facility by testing all staff and residents. 

• Detecting cases quickly with facility-wide testing when a new case in a resident or health care professional is found.

• Stopping the spread by continuing weekly testing of all residents and staff through at least 14 days since the most recent positive result.

For the purposes of the updated testing guidance, long-term-care facilities include, but is not limited to, skilled nursing facilities, personal care homes, assisted living residences, community residential rehabilitation services, long-term structured residence, residential treatment facility for adults and intermediate care facilities.

As of June 5, the Department of Health has deployed these mitigation efforts at long-term care facilities, according to a press release:

• Pushed out more than 1,870 shipments of personal protective equipment to date, which has included 167,674 gowns, 131,700 face shields, 792,000 gloves, 2,632,280 N95s masks and 881,700 surgical masks.

• Deployed 55 Pennsylvania National Guard Strike Teams to 27 long-term care facilities.

• Responded to 100 percent of outbreaks, defined as one or more confirmed positive case among- staff or residents, in long-term care facilities.

• Provided advice and consultation on infection control and outbreak response to facilities and, where needed, collaborated, partnered and received report from local, state, and federal resources, along with contracted support from ECRI.

Through the collaborations and partnerships with ECRI and Patient Safety Authority, the department provided infection control and technical assistance to more than 100 and 90 different long-term care facilities, respectively. The Educational Support and Clinical Consultation Program team has provided clinical guidance, advice on infection control strategies, and clinical needs identification to more than 250 facilities.

The long-term care facility data mandated by the department includes the number of cases, number of employee cases and number of deaths that have occurred at each facility. Facilities who are not reporting, or not reporting properly, have been assisted to ensure the data is being shared properly.