Experts: COVID-19 testing in long-term care facilities falls short

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, residents and staff of long-term care facilities account for almost 45% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. Yet testing for the virus has not reached levels that experts say are necessary to stem the spread of the virus.

Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, says that only seven states even require ongoing testing of these residents, staff or both. Those states are Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Florida, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Thirty-two states have mandated at least one round of testing for long-term care facilities’ residents and staff. Experts, however, say that weekly testing is needed because a negative test result only provides useful information for a few days. Infected people can be asymptomatic at first and can therefore spread the virus without realizing it.

Moreover, there are often delays in getting the test results back. The American Laboratory Association is reporting delayed turnaround for tests due to demand in the West, Southwest and South.

Over 60% of members of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living report delayed processing times for tests. The turnaround times for most were up to four days — five days or longer for almost a quarter. A group that runs 31 long-term care facilities in Texas reported test results taking 16 to 21 days.

Without rapid test results, it may be much harder to stop the spread of the virus.

Lack of federal leadership may be to blame

Experts pointed to the current state-by-state approach to testing as problematic. The federal government hasn’t stepped in to stabilize the supply chain for testing supplies and PPE. States have had to compete with one another for supplies, and now are competing with large employers and others as the country attempts to reopen.

This has meant that when the need for testing or PPE surges, there is no clear supply chain to meet that surge.

The cost has been astronomical. Ideally, the federal government would have used its massive bargaining power to secure testing supplies and PPE and then sold it to states and facilities at reasonable rates. Instead, facilities are finding themselves with a mandate to do costly testing but with little to no additional money with which to do it.

Long-term care facilities are not closed systems

Although most facilities have been closed to visitors for months, that does not mean there is no way for the virus to get in. Staff members have to go home, go shopping, go about their business.

Will states mandate more testing at long-term care facilities? If they do, will the facilities be able to handle it?

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