Pa. announces COVID-19 testing plan for nursing homes

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Pennsylvania will begin a stricter testing regime for nursing homes, assisted living and other long term care facilities to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine did not offer specifics of the cost or number of tests, but the plan would cover both staff and residents, Levine said during an online news briefing on Tuesday. 

Testing “will have to be individualized to each facility,” Levine said.

Speaking to journalists Tuesday on a conference call, Gov. Tom Wolf called the plan “fairly radical,” the Associated Press reported.

“What we are going to do, which I think is fairly radical, is make sure that we are doing surveillance testing,” Wolf said, according to the Associated Press.

The plan follows weeks of concerns that state nursing homes and state regulators were unprepared for the pandemic.

The latest on COVID-19 in Pa.: 57,991 confirmed cases in 67 counties

So far, 12,130 nursing home residents have caught COVID-19 in 540 different facilities across the commonwealth. Of the 3,806 Pennsylvanians who have died of the disease, about two-thirds were in long term care, according to Health Department data. 

Despite the mounting death toll, Levine said that wider testing was not an option earlier because the state did not have the testing capabilities for facility-wide population tests. The new testing plan will use both state, federal and private dollars and testing resources to meet the new goal.

In a statement, Zach Shamberg, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents more than 500 long-term care facilities, said that expanded testing was the best recourse with a vaccine as of yet unavailable.

“Time is of the essence for our state’s most vulnerable population,” Shamberg said.

Wolf proposes creating army of public health workers to tackle contact tracing of COVID-19

In the more than two months since COVID-19 was first reported in Pennsylvania, the Department of Health has reported a little under 300,000 tests. Just last week, the state unveiled a plan to test 250,000 a month as the state begins to reopen.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro also announced Tuesday that his office will begin a criminal investigation of state nursing homes. 

While Wolf recently signed an order providing malpractice immunity to health care professionals operating in hospitals, nursing homes and other care centers last week, it does not protect the owners or operators of those facilities.