Trump administration says coronavirus testing is key to nursing homes reopening

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PORTERVILLE, UNITED STATES – APRIL 27, 2020: Cheyenne Pipkin (left) visits with her mother Loraine Franks (center) her grandfather Jerry Hogan, a Vietnam Veteran, who is lying on a bed at Lindsey Gardens after testing positive for COVID-19/Coronavirus, a week earlier Hogan had been in the hospital, where he had pneumonia unrelated to Coronavirus, and had tested negative, when he was sent to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation, then there was an outbreak at the facility where he then tested positive a few days later.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Jeremy Hogan / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Jeremy Hogan / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

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The Trump administration recommends that nursing homes test all residents and staff for the coronavirus — and then continue to test employees weekly — as part of its plan to relax restrictions at the facilities, officials said Monday.

Testing is among several criteria for reopening nursing homes — which have been hit especially hard by Covid-19 — laid out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. State and local officials will also have to consider the status of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the community as well as in each nursing home, facilities’ compliance with infection control measures and local hospital capacity — setting a higher bar than for reopening restaurants, stores and other businesses.

Facilities should not allow visitors until there have been no new cases in the nursing home for 28 days, which falls into phase three of the administration’s Opening Up America Again guidelines. All residents, staff and visitors should wear masks, and employees should have adequate personal protective equipment, according to the agency.

“We are asking states and nursing homes to use extreme caution because this is such a vulnerable population,” said Seema Verma, the agency’s administrator.

Nursing home industry organizations agreed that testing is vital but called for more government support to fund it.

“The reality is that too many nursing homes and other aging services providers are still desperately in need of testing and personal protective equipment, and we don’t know when or if it’s coming,” said Katie Smith Sloan, CEO of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services including nursing homes, noting that its members pay up to $250,000 a week to test staff twice a week.

Governors should use the $11 billion in federal funding allocated to states for testing to expand efforts in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, said Mark Parkinson, CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities.

“Moving forward, it is vital that all long-term-care facilities receive additional support and funding from state governments to conduct expanded testing,” he said.

The administration’s announcement comes more than two months after it advised nursing homes to close their doors to visitors and volunteers, with few exceptions, as the pandemic began to spread in the US. CMS is also requiring nursing homes to start reporting cases to patients and family members and to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nursing homes account for roughly 41% of coronavirus deaths in 36 states, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation compilation of state reports.

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