Pa. releases new coronavirus testing guidelines for nursing homes

Long-term care facility visit
Photo credit Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images
By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine released new guidelines Thursday for coronavirus testing at Pennsylvania nursing homes.

The new protocols — which come in response to the Aug. 26 update from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — lay out rules for the frequency of testing based on how much virus activity there is in a given county.

“The prevalence of cases in nursing homes is directly proportional to the prevalence of cases in the county in which they’re located,” Levine explained.

Compassionate caregivers will be permitted to provide care to nursing home residents if there are two or more documented changes in a resident’s condition.

“Compassionate caregivers can be family members or others, and they play an important role in improving a resident’s mental and physical health,” she said.

Residents and staff who appear symptomatic with COVID-19 should be tested immediately.

“If an outbreak is occurring in a facility, then universal testing will occur to determine the spread of the virus, and we will intervene.”

For nursing facilities located in counties with a lower risk of contracting the coronavirus, asymptomatic staff should be tested every four weeks. Testing asymptomatic residents is not recommended. 

Asymptomatic staff working in counties with moderate virus activity should be tested weekly. Asymptomatic residents in moderate- or high-activity counties, who have had outside contact over the past 14 days, should also be tested weekly. 

Asymptomatic staff working in counties with high virus activity should be tested twice a week.

“We know that COVID-19 enters a facility through the dedicated and courageous staff who are asymptomatic, and through no fault of their own, bring it into the facility,” Levine added.

In addition to testing at nursing homes, Levine said the everyday precautions taken by people with no connection to a nursing home also help slow the spread of the virus to vulnerable populations — that being mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, and social distancing.