BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - President Donald Trump is calling for all nursing home residents and staff to be tested within the next two weeks. Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) say they’re working on a plan to accomplish just that.
Nearly one million people live in 15,000 nursing homes across the U.S. Many clusters of COVID-19 have come out of nursing homes across both Louisiana and the nation. It’s why Seema Verma, the American Health Policy consultant to President Trump, said the president is now calling for testing on all residents and staff at the homes nationwide.
“It’s important I think when you’re distant from a loved one to be able to have as much information as possible and that’s why we took that step to require nursing homes to report to family members and other patients what’s going on in the nursing homes in regards to the Coronavirus,” said Verma.
In Louisiana, there are 279 certified nursing homes. Of those, nearly 70% or 195, have reported COVID-19 cases. At the nursing homes, there have been 3,597 reported positive coronavirus cases and 828 deaths.
With 2,281 total deaths in Louisiana, 36% of all deaths can be traced back to nursing homes.
The goal is to get the statistics reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week and then post those numbers publicly on a website. However, since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been clusters that pop up at nursing homes across the country and in Louisiana. So why now and not two months ago?
“I think it’s important to note this was going to be something that was stressful on nursing homes. I mean we have a very contagious virus, five times as contagious as the normal flu. You also have elderly individuals with underlying conditions living in close quarters, so this is bound to create stress,” said Verma.
LDH said getting enough tests was a problem in the beginning. Now, there are commercial labs all throughout the state with labs working around the clock and the capacity increasing every week. In fact, LDH said they hope to double their capacity to 200,000 tests by the end of May, including in nursing homes. Nationally, Verma said they put out new regulations every two weeks.
“One of the things we did weeks ago is we increased the amount of reimbursement for labs and we also allowed them to go into nursing homes and collect samples and the idea here was to encourage them to do more testing in nursing homes and we’ve seen across the country that that’s worked,” said Verma.
On May 8, LDH issued official guidance to all nursing homes encouraging testing for all residents and staff. Click here to read LDH’s guidance on testing in nursing homes.
LDH issued the following statement to WAFB Tuesday, May 12:
"Ramping up testing for COVID-19 across the state is a critical component for moving forward. We’ve gotten a lot accomplished since the start of this pandemic. We have gone from a very limited amount of testing that was only available in our state lab to now having commercial labs all over the state working around the clock just like our state lab to complete and report as many tests as possible. Our capacity continues to increase week after week.
We have made significant strides and we have a lot more to do. We have a goal to double our testing capacity to complete 200,000 tests by end of May, and to focus on inaccessible places, hot spots and congregate settings.
We are increasing testing in congregate settings like nursing homes. From the beginning, the Department identified nursing homes and other congregate settings as especially vulnerable to COVID-19 spread. We have been working closely with these facilities. We not only need comprehensive testing in congregate settings; we need repeated comprehensive testing. Last week the Department put out official guidance encouraging comprehensive testing of staff and residents.
We have heard the White House’s recent nationwide call for COVID-19 testing in all nursing home residents and staff in the next two weeks, and are working through a plan that would accomplish this goal."
Governor John Bel Edwards is expected to address the president’s call for all testing during a news conference Wednesday, May 13.
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