BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana fell short of its goal to test all the state’s nursing home residents and employees for the coronavirus by the end of May, raising questions about whether testing plans aimed at keeping tabs on those most vulnerable to the pandemic are achievable.
Nearly 78% of Louisiana’s 23,445 nursing home residents have been tested for the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to data provided to The Associated Press by the state health department.
Only 61% of the workers at the facilities — those who are coming and going from the nursing home and could bring the virus in with them — have received COVID-19 tests, the data shows.
That falls short of Louisiana’s goal in the testing plan it submitted to federal officials last month.
Nursing homes account for more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana. In its submission to the federal government, Louisiana detailed expectations that everyone in the state’s 278 nursing homes would be tested for the virus by May 31, even if they do not show symptoms. And the state promised subsequent testing of employees and residents whose results came back negative, as a way to continue monitoring sites that have become hot spots for virus outbreaks.
The health department said it is making significant strides in minimizing infection and spread in nursing homes, with more than 500 visits to facilities, nearly 53,000 testing kits distributed and infection control and testing teams specifically targeting sites that need assistance.
“The end of May was always a very ambitious goal,” Louisiana Department of Health spokeswoman Aly Neel said Thursday in an interview. “That said, we are making progress. The data shows that. There have been some obstacles, including some nursing homes not accepting our offers of support. We do continue to reach out to all nursing homes.”
Twenty-two nursing homes are not complying with the state’s testing plans, according to the health department. That means they either don’t have plans to test everyone on site, or they aren’t sharing information about their testing plans with the state, even though the state has offered assistance to do the testing. Neel did not provide the names of the facilities, but said 8% of Louisiana’s nursing home residents live at those sites.
Meanwhile, testing the workers who represent one of the main ways to transmit the virus into a nursing home appears to have hit some resistance.
“Anecdotally, we have heard that some nursing home facilities are more hesitant to test staff, because of the staffing challenges that they’re facing. We’ve also heard anecdotally from staff who are worried about what it could mean for their job security, who are worried about what it could mean for their insurance,” Neel said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t required that Louisiana nursing homes test every resident and employee. But the Democratic governor’s administration is strongly encouraging such testing and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended it.
The state is offering testing kits and lab analysis to nursing homes, and is going in to help with the swabbing if needed.
For most people, the highly contagious coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.
Nearly 45,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Louisiana, according to the state health department, and 2,883 people have died. More than 1,200 of those deaths have been among nursing home residents, according to the department’s data.
Nursing homes have taken different approaches to testing, with some signing their own agreements with labs and others relying more heavily on the state for help.
CCI runs six nursing homes across south Louisiana, mainly in the Acadiana region. The company started symptom-based testing in April and then expanded that last month to regular testing of employees and residents, said Bob Richardson, CCI’s chief compliance officer. Everyone at the six nursing homes have been tested more than once, he said.
“We’re testing often,” Richardson said.
Three residents have died from COVID-19 at a CCI nursing home in Lafayette. While a handful of the company’s facilities have used state assistance for swabbing, CCI’s nursing homes have worked out their own agreements with a private lab to do most of the tests, he said.
“We’re just doing everything we can to take care of our residents to the best of our ability,” Richardson said.