July 14, 2020

Despite experts’ views that routine staff testing is necessary to slow down the tragic multitude of occurrences of COVID-19 in nursing homes, there still isn’t a plan for regular testing for the virus, according to a report from the NC Watchdog Reporting Network.

Almost half of COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina occur in nursing homes, according to the article, while there have been outbreaks at around 40% of the state’s more than 400 nursing homes.

Calls for more attention to senior health facilities and pleas for testing have increased as it has become apparent that the facilities were a hotspot for the disease, and more sadly, for COVID-19 deaths. The Governor’s administration, however, has dragged its feet in spite of national experts’ advice that testing of nursing home staff is vital.

There are 70,000 staffers and residents at nursing homes in North Carolina and the state recently announced a plan to test them all by the end of August. But experts in the article wonder why the delay and why state health experts haven’t rung the alarm bells louder. 

According to the article, “especially now that community spread of the coronavirus is widespread in North Carolina, some medical researchers are concerned that staff have a greater chance of bringing COVID-19 into nursing homes, where the state’s most vulnerable residents live. This makes it particularly important that nursing home workers in communities with a rising number of infections are tested repeatedly, experts say, but North Carolina has opted for a focus on infection prevention rather than routine testing.”

For months now, national experts and NC legislative leaders have called for testing.  But the governor’s state health experts don’t seem to believe that testing is the answer.

“(Testing) is not a solution to prevent infection, really, it’s a mechanism to detect infection,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, the section chief of chronic disease and injury at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services….”

Cost is another factor noted for testing delays. “The tests can cost anywhere from $70 to $250, said Adam Sholar, president and CEO of the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association, an industry trade group. One nursing home operator told reporters they had been quoted $300 a test.

The nursing home industry asked the state to help cover the cost of staff testing, according to Sholar.  To that concern, the NC General Assembly in June voted for a $100 million allocation which should be a big boost to help address testing costs.

It appears from this article that our most vulnerable citizens are still not getting the full court attention from the Governor’s administration they deserve and that regular testing of COVID-19 is still not in the works.  We hope legislators continue to keep an eye on this.