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COVID-19 testing in NC nursing homes to be expanded to all residents, staff

News & Observer - 6/30/2020

Jun. 30--As the number of coronavirus cases across North Carolina continues to increase, hitting long-term care facilities especially hard, state health officials said Tuesday that all nursing homes residents and employees will be tested, regardless of whether there is an outbreak at a facility.

The state now recommends that nursing homes with one or more cases test all residents and employees, but the latest initiative for universal testing takes it one step further -- a delayed response to criticism that the state's most vulnerable residents have not been tested soon enough.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state's secretary for health and human services, made the announcement at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. Testing will begin in July and last through August, Cohen said.

There are more than 400 nursing homes in North Carolina, with more than 36,000 residents and 25,000 employees, the state says.

But in the state's nursing homes, there have been at least 4,440 cases of COVID-19 and 660 deaths, according to DHHS statistics. That is roughly half of the 1,343 coronavirus-related deaths.

"Older North Carolinians have been harder hit by this virus," Cohen said.

The initiative is a partnership with CVSHealth. CVSHealth will bill insurance, and DHHS says it will pay for additional costs.

"Testing will enable our skilled nursing facilities to identify positive cases earlier and better determine additional infection prevention and control measures necessary to contain spread," Dr. Susan Kansagra, DHHS' Chief of Chronic Disease and Injury, said in a press release Tuesday.

Some experts say that repeat testing is also necessary to stop the spread of the virus, The News & Observer reported.

Universal testing in nursing homes is recommended, but not required, said Amy Adams Ellis, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, in an email to The N&O last week. The state had completed testing in state-run facilities, officials told The N&O.

The state also has distributed personal protective equipment to 3,000 state-licensed long-term care facilities, according to a news release.

DHHS reported on Tuesday 64,670 total cases of COVID-19, an increase of 1,186 since Monday. State health officials also reported that 45,538 people are presumed recovered from coronavirus infections.

The estimate is based on when people tested positive for the virus and whether they were hospitalized or recovered at home.

While the state's announcement addresses older residents and those in long-term care facilities, Cohen said the majority of new cases in the last two weeks are in people 25 to 49. That rise in cases can pose a risk to older adults, Cohen said.

They may have lunch with their older parent, grandparent, or friend, or pass the virus to a nursing home worker in the grocery store, Cohen said.

"When we see more spread in our younger folks who may not get quite as sick, they are still risks to those who would get more sick," she said.

People in that age group account for 45% of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, more than any other age group, according to DHHS data.

By comparison, 31% are in ages 50 and older, the data shows, which is three age groups combined.

The increase in younger people is a result of people being exposed at their workplaces, and the feeling that they are invincible, Cohen said.

"It's not just about your own personal risk," Cohen said. "It's about what is the risk to our community members as a whole."


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