Health officials: More than 20,000 COVID-19 tests completed through nursing home testing plan

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 20,000 COVID-19 tests have been completed as part of the state’s effort to test every resident and employee at North Carolina’s nursing homes.

Amy Adams Ellis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, told CBS 17 News that 20,322 tests were completed as of Monday with another 25,000 scheduled through next week.

She said those figures do not include tests completed through the nursing homes’ vendors. The state does not have a specific count of how many cases were caught through the testing program, though those results are tabulated along with the rest of the cumulative state totals in addition to being broken down by county and ZIP code, she said.

DHHS in June announced its plan to make testing available to residents and staff at the state’s 428 nursing homes. The project began last month and is continuing into August.

Residents and employees of nursing homes across the country have been among the hardest-hit populations by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says it will begin requiring weekly tests for staff at nursing homes in states with an overall test positivity rate of 5 percent or greater. 

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, citing data from Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus dashboard, says if it were to take effect now, it would impact 33 states — including North Carolina, where the 7-day rolling average of that daily figure was at 6.3 percent Thursday. CMS did not say when that provision is expected to take effect.

Widespread testing is considered a crucial element of limiting the spread of a disease that has infected more than 131,000 people in North Carolina and killed nearly 2,100 since March. Nursing homes account for 6,667 of those cases and 870 of those deaths.

According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published last month, a collaboration of testing and infection-control procedures helped to lower the rate of new cases in nursing homes in Michigan from 35 percent to 18 percent. 

The AHCA/NCAL is advocating for the creation of a $5 billion fund to help pay for testing. Under their proposal, labs and skilled nursing homes or assisted living communities could apply to cover the costs of testing ordered by a governmental entity.

The group also is asking for $100 billion for the federal Department of Health and Human Services Provider Relief Fund with “a substantial portion” of that dedicated to nursing homes and assisted living communities for testing, personal protective equipment and support for staff.

The group says nursing homes have received less than 5 percent of the $175 billion allocated to healthcare providers from the CARES Act’s Provider Relief Fund and that assisted living communities have not received any direct federal aid.

Citing a federal data set released last week, the AHCA/NCAL says 23 percent of nursing homes in North Carolina lack a one-week supply of N95 masks while 15 percent of the state’s facilities don’t have that many surgical masks and 16 percent of them lack a week’s worth of gowns.

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