State Announces Coronavirus Testing for Long-Term Care Facilities

The tests are meant to help detect — and ideally curb — the spread of the virus in long-term care facilities, which emerged immediately during the pandemic as high-risk locations for outbreaks and fatalities.

by Joseph O'Sullivan, The Seattle Times / May 29, 2020
AP

(TNS) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday announced a state directive requiring nursing homes and the memory-care units in assisted-living facilities to offer testing to their residents for the new coronavirus.

Announced in a news conference, the directive also requires those facilities to test staffers for the virus, except those who can prove a medical exemption.

“To help in this effort, our state is going to be sending test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to nursing homes” as well as memory-care units, Inslee said.

The tests are meant to help detect — and ideally curb — the spread of the virus in long-term care facilities, which emerged immediately during the pandemic as high-risk locations for outbreaks and fatalities.

Residents at these facilities will not be tested without their consent, according to a copy of the order. The directive does not apply to facilities that finished a COVID-19 prevalence survey of their workers and residents and staff on or after April 1.

The state will pay for staff tests, and insurance should cover tests for residents, Inslee said.

The order is effective immediately, said state Secretary of Health John Wiesman, and will allow for testing in facilities where outbreaks haven’t been detected.

“We are excited to have the adequate personal protective equipment, and now the testing supplies, to carry out this mission,” said Wiesman.

The goal is to complete testing in nursing homes within the next two weeks, by June 12, according to Inslee. Meanwhile, the state hopes to complete testing by June 26 for residents and staff in assisted-living facilities with memory-care units.

Thursday’s announcement comes after the state has struggled to corral enough supplies to test every resident and staffer in long-term care facilities for the new coronavirus.

A robust supply of tests and PPE is needed for broad testing of the 4,100 group care facilities in Washington, which includes nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Deb Murphy, the CEO and president of LeadingAge Washington, an advocacy group representing nonprofit nursing homes, said she believes the directive is achievable.

“Testing of asymptomatic staff and residents has enabled long-term-care providers to act quickly to cohort positive residents and require staff to quarantine for 10 days,” she said in an email. “These actions save precious lives.”

One concern advocates have, she said, is what happens if workers refuse to be tested for the virus.

Facilities aren’t sure how they should respond to staff refusals, and whether that would place the care providers in compliance jeopardy. If a worker refuses to be tested, he or she may be required to stay home for 14 days. Frequent refusals could exacerbate the shortage of health care workers, she added

Meanwhile, a judge in Chelan County Superior Court Thursday heard a legal challenge to temporarily restrain the statewide stay-home order.

Attorney Joel Ard argued the order, among other things, has violated residents’ constitutional rights and caused harm by limiting people’s ability to earn a living.

Judge Kristin Ferrera is expected to make a ruling on that case Monday.

“We believe we’re on very firm ground, both by Washington law, by statute, and also by the state and federal constitutions,” said Inslee.

The governor said he is not factoring the lawsuit into decisions he is preparing to make about the stay-at-home order. Inslee is expected to make an announcement about the order — which is in effect through May 31 — as early as Friday.

In the meantime, Wiesman Thursday granted permission for Clallam and Kitsap counties to move to the second phase of the plan, which allows a host of businesses and activities to resume with measures to protect against the virus.

Those additions mean 26 of Washington’s 39 counties are now approved for the second phase.

Staff reporter Paige Cornwell contributed to this story.

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