Assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities must be given immediate access to COVID-19 testing kits to be able to identify asymptomatic residents and staff members and prevent the spread of the disease, Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, said Wednesday.

His remarks came on the same day that the Wall Street Journal estimated the number of coronavirus-related deaths in long-term care, including in assisted living and nursing homes, at more than 10,000, although the media outlet acknowledged that reporting varies by state and that not all states have released data. Testing is limited, so some long-term care workers without COVID-19 symptoms likely have brought the infection into their workplaces, Patricia Stone, Ph.D., RN, on faculty at the Columbia School of Nursing, told the newspaper.

Parkinson said his comments were in response to remarks by Deborah Birx, M.D., coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, who during Tuesday’s task force press briefing called for long-term care facilities to be among the areas prioritized by states for more COVID-19 testing.

“There’s surveillance that we called for to find asymptomatics before people get sick,” Birx said. “As an early warning signal, we asked for those to be in the federal clinics in our inner city, more vulnerable areas, among indigenous populations and, of course, in our long-term care facilities and prisons. We really want to support state and local governments to move forward on this critical monitoring to protect individuals that may be in the most critically vulnerable states.”

Parkinson said that AHCA / NCAL has heard from members that have been able to undertake expanded testing, and “they are finding a high number of residents and staff who are positive, but without symptoms.” A lack of testing, therefore, puts operators “at a severe disadvantage in identifying more of these asymptomatic residents and staff,” he said, adding that personal protective equipment also continues to be needed so staff members can care for residents.

“Plain and simple, whether it’s our federal, state or local health agencies, long-term care facilities need adequate testing kits and personal protective equipment. And we need them now,” Parkinson said.

‘Older adults will remain on tenterhooks’

Aging services providers should be given the highest priority for immediate and ongoing testing for staff members and residents, Kendal Corp. President and CEO Sean Kelly said Wednesday in an open letter to government and health department officials.

“Without rapid, reliable testing, older adults will remain on tenterhooks until proven antibody testing and vaccinations are readily available,” he added. Kennett Square, PA-based Kendal has 13 not-for-profit continuing care retirement / life plan communities across eight states.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • The Oregon Health Authority on Monday issued revised COVID-19 testing guidelines that allow asymptomatic residents and staff members of long-term care facilities and other congregate settings to be tested for COVID-19 if supplies allow. If capacity is limited, then providers will decide those to prioritize.
  • State efforts in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio to relay the number of cases of COVID-19 in assisted living and nursing facilities to the public have been hampered, with operators expressing frustration over incomplete, inaccurate or vague data. In Massachusetts, the House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday that would require long-term care facilities to report, and the state to disclose, the number of resident and staff cases and deaths every day, according to the Boston Globe.
  • The latest state to use the National Guard to assist long-term care operators is Nevada, where members will help ensure that assisted living communities and nursing homes are clean, Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, the guard’s adjutant general, said Tuesday, when he appeared at a press conference with Gov. Steve Sisolak. Assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities account for more than 16% of reported COVID-19 deaths in Nevada, according to state data cited by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Investigators have identified inadequate handwashing as the top factor in the spread of COVID-19 in facilities there, according to the media outlet.
  • The United States could see an “even more difficult” “assault of the virus” in the winter compared with the current outbreak, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told The Washington Post. “We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he said.
  • LeadingAge Florida President and CEO Steve Bahmer has been appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to serve on the Re-Open Task Force Industry Working Group on Agriculture, Finance, Government, Healthcare, Management and Professional Services. “I look forward to representing the perspectives of long-term care providers in working with the task force to help develop thoughtful recommendations to ensure the safe reopening of our state,” Bahmer said.