COVID-19 testing

Amid COVID-19 surges in some states and fears of the upcoming flu season, a patchwork testing system is creating administrative headaches and complicating reopening plans for senior living communities.

In Minnesota, the recent rapid expansion of coronavirus testing in the state’s 2,000 senior living communities is straining an already stretched system in a state where cases are surging and schools are about to reopen. Testing results are being delayed by a nationwide shortage of supplies and backlogs at private laboratories processing thousands of samples daily, according to published reports

Some communities are reporting delays of four to seven days in results, and some operators are sending samples out of state due to backlogs at state labs. Senior living communities say prolonged testing turnaround times could make the tests useless in containing the virus in some facilities. 

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz made testing part of a “battle plan” to address COVID-19’s impact on assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. The National Guard was deployed to provide testing support at 485 long-term care facilities in the state.

Meanwhile, as Florida’s Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of Long Term Care Facilities met for the first time Friday, an industry expert said visitation restrictions should not be lifted until accurate, rapid testing is in place.

“We waited this long; let’s get it right for people living and working there and visit there,” Brian Lee, executive director of the non-profit Families for Better Care said, according to a media report. “Let’s do it safely, correctly to preserve life.”

Lee, a former ombudsman, said he’s concerned that a rush to reopen “could have devastating consequences.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently warned that more COVID-19 deaths may hit assisted living communities and nursing homes in the coming weeks, even though cases and hospitalizations are down across the state. Protective measures put in place kept the virus from breaching long-term care facilities, he said.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said they recently met with several Illinois senior living and care operators recently to discuss safety and care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislators met with representatives from assisted living, memory care, independent living and continuing care retirement communities to discuss improving the nation’s testing and contact tracing efforts and access to personal protected equipment for residents and employees.
  • The Empire State Association of Assisted Living is working with the New York Department of Health to separate and differentiate policies that reduce isolation and allow more freedoms for assisted living residents. The group says blanket rules for adult care / assisted living and skilled nursing facilities continue to be enforced in the state despite stark differences in the characteristics of the two resident populations and COVID-19-related data.
  • A 25-person task force of Arizona lawmakers, long-term care providers, family members and advocates has been created to assemble recommendations for phasing in-person visits back into senior living communities. Gaile Dixon, president of Dream Catcher Premier Assisted Living, is the only assisted living representative on the task force, headed by state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix). Visitation recommendations likely will depend on the type of facility and community spread of COVID-19. 
  • Oregon senior living communities and skilled nursing facilities are on track to test all residents and workers for the coronavirus by a Sept. 30 deadline. The state has promised to pay for testing or reimburse costs for every facility, but the Oregon Health Authority still has not hired contractors to do the work. Concerns about limited testing supplies, delayed results and lack of federal government support complicate matters. 
  • Residents in almost every long-term care facility in New Hampshire can now designate one person to visit them, and some non-essential personnel, such as hairdressers, can enter facilities again. The new state guidance was designed to gradually lift restrictions only in areas where the data shows it is safe to do so.
  • Siggy’s Musical Garden, a Minnesota non-profit charity organization supporting music and art education and appreciation, held multiple window serenades at assisted living communities in Superior, MN. Sixteen local musicians and bands performed outside the windows of residents at Villa Marina and Twin Ports Health and Rehabilitation Services. 
  • Wesley House Assisted Living in Hillsboro, TX, offered its residents an unconventional way to pass the time during the pandemic. Residents made their way through stations, enjoying both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as getting temporary tattoos. 
  • After being locked down in her assisted living community in Muskegon, MI, for months, Dorothy Pollack, 103, celebrated by getting her first tattoo and taking her first motorcycle ride. 
  • Tuscan Gardens at Venetia Bay Senior Living has created a hug wall to try to bring families together for a safe embrace through a wall of acrylic glass and heavy-duty gloves. Visitors make a 20-minute appointment, with staff taking 10 minutes after each visit to sanitize before the next guest.
  • Residents at an Athens, AL, assisted living facility received a flood of letters after issuing a call for pen pals on Facebook. Limestone Manor Assisted Living received letters from California, Iowa, Florida, Tennessee and Nevada.