Broad-based COVID-19 testing should be made available immediately for residents and workers in senior living communities and nursing homes to address the current “heartbreaking” spread of disease in long-term care, a senior living executive said after rapidly deployed testing in one of his company’s senior living communities showed positive preventive results.

Nisan Harel, vice president of operations at Seattle-based Era Living, said he is pleading with local, state and federal government officials to make such testing available.

“We know that elderly individuals, and those who care for them, are most at risk for developing COVID-19 infections that are life-threatening,” he said. “It’s time to allow broad-based testing for all residents and staff in retirement, nursing home and assisted living facilities to help inform targeted preventative strategies to protect residents and staff, while also preserving valuable personal protective equipment.”

Era Living’s experience at its Ida Culver House Ravenna independent living and assisted living community in Seattle was highlighted in an article Friday in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research publication. CDC and UW Medicine investigators wrote that symptom screening is of limited use in identifying cases of COVID-19 and that mitigation measures could be “instrumental” in preventing outbreaks in independent living and assisted living communities.

Harel said Monday that the two rounds of broad-based testing conducted among Ira Culver’s 80 residents “continues to greatly inform our aggressive preventative measures and thus far has kept infection rates very low — even when the risk for outbreak was high following two known infections in early March.”

Two initial cases of COVID-19 (including one death) prompted broad-based testing on March 10, and three additional residents and two staff members tested positive. To test the effectiveness of preventive measures put in place, a second round of testing was done March 17, and one additional resident tested positive. Since that time, another staff member also has tested positive. Era believes the number of cases has remained relatively low, however, due to preventive measures taken at Ida Culver:

  • The staffing schedule was changed to avoid staff crossover to other residents and to ensure that staff members who still were interacting with COVID-19 positive residents were protected with PPE.
  • Non-essential visitors were restricted, and essential visitors were screened for risk factors.
  • Temperatures were taken of all visitors and all staff members at the start of their shifts.
  • Dining room meals were canceled.
  • All resident activities, including bus outings to the grocery store, were canceled.
  • Surface cleaning and disinfection protocols in common areas were doubled in frequency.
  • All residents and staff were reminded to practice hand hygiene and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Staff were “strongly encouraged” to take extra precautions in their personal lives, given the vulnerability of the residents they serve (in advance of government orders). Such precautions include, among other things, staying at home and avoiding large groups of people as much as possible.
  • The community committing to transparent and frequent communication with residents and staff members.

“It has been heartbreaking to watch the coronavirus situation unfold in communities around our state,” Harel said. “We know from our own experiences — and by monitoring data from countries such as Germany and South Korea, who are successfully fighting COVID-19 using broad-based testing — that identifying those infected early on can dramatically change outcomes for the better.”

Prioritizing PPE for broad-based testing, he added, also would be “far less wasteful and, in our opinion, much more effective at curbing the spread of the virus than trying to use PPE on everyone in our communities.”

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