NC begins COVID-19 testing at nursing homes amid delays in getting test results

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – COVID-19 testing is underway at nursing homes across North Carolina as part of a new initiative while state leaders also report delays in getting the results from those tests.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is making testing available at more than 400 nursing homes where about 36,000 people live and more than 30,000 people work.

The White House recommended the testing be done in May.

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said last week a shortage of the chemical reagent which is used at laboratories to process those tests has led to it taking five to six days to get test results back.

“Before, we were seeing turnaround times in 24 hours, 48 hours,” she said, as she asked for the federal government to step in to deal with the supply issue. “That’s not good. We need to really close that gap, and that’s one thing that North Carolina, we can’t solve that problem from the state level. We need federal assistance. We need assistance with the supply chain.”

As of Monday, the state reported COVID-19 outbreaks at 127 nursing homes. About 48 percent of the 1,398 deaths that have occurred in North Carolina due to COVID-19 have been among people in nursing homes.

Amanda Robertson’s mother, Nina Thayer, lives at the Laurels of Chatham in Pittsboro. Another resident there tested positive for COVID-19 in early April.

Robertson turned to CBS 17 when she wanted her mother to get a test as well even though she was not showing symptoms.

Robertson said it turned out her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, tested positive for COVID-19. She continued to test positive for another two months, Robertson said, without ever developing symptoms.

“I don’t know how we’re going to move forward if we’re not testing in a huge way in all of our nursing homes,” she said.

A few weeks ago her mother tested negative and was moved out of the section of the nursing home where people are who test positive.

Robertson said she’s encouraged that the state is moving forward on widespread testing in nursing homes, but she’s concerned about the delay that now exists in getting results back as facilities try to avoid outbreaks of COVID-19.

“I think that’s scary for people that are in nursing homes. It’s scary for all of us. It’s really scary for everybody,” she said. “My heart really goes out to the folks that have been there for my mom, that have called me and done FaceTime calls with my mom and they’re around these folks all the time.”

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, which represent long-term care providers, released a survey last week regarding the timeline for getting COVID-19 test results.

About 24 percent of facilities reported it taking five days on average to get results back. Sixty-three percent said it took 2 to 4 days while 10 percent reported getting results the next day. Three percent said they got same-day results.

“We continue to work closely with the state to protect the residents and staff in our skilled nursing facilities. This testing initiative is another example of how the state is providing our facilities with valuable tools and resources,” said Adam Sholar, president and CEO of the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association in a written statement to CBS 17.

As CBS 17 previously reported, Labcorp, which is based in North Carolina, is processing hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests per week.

Company spokesperson Nadia Damouni told CBS 17, “In recent weeks, we have seen a steady increase in demand for molecular testing and we are doing everything we can to continue delivering results in a timely manner while continually increasing testing capacity. With the recent increase in demand, results on average may take 1-2 days longer. We expect our capacity for molecular tests to increase from 130,000 to 150,000 tests per day by mid-July.”

Quest Diagnostics, which has conducted more than five million COVID-19 diagnostic tests, said the company is still turning around results in one day for people considered a top priority. That includes hospital patients, pre-operative patients and healthcare workers who show symptoms.

For others, the wait is three to five days for results, the company said.

Pruitt Health, which manages nursing homes in several states, has COVID-19 outbreaks at three facilities in North Carolina, including in Orange, Wake and Pitt counties, according to NC DHHS.

In an email, a spokesperson wrote, “We fully support the State’s recent decision to test all nursing homes as centers cannot maintain frequent testing costs on their own. At PruittHealth, we identified early on that frequent testing was key to beating the virus and actively pursued solutions that would enable us to test more patients and staff regularly. These solutions include partnerships with organizations like Duke University, opening a center solely dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 and, more recently, obtaining the equipment to test for COVID-19 onsite at one of our North Carolina locations. Our centers continue to test for COVID-19 as aggressively as testing supply allows. For the most updated testing results for PruittHealth centers, visit PruittHealth.com.”

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