Maryland to require universal coronavirus testing in nursing homes

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Nursing homes in Maryland will be required to test all staff and residents for COVID-19, regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms, under an executive order Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Wednesday.

Nursing homes have been particularly vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks, which have ravaged the elderly population. 

According to newly released information by the state, there are more than 4,300 positive cases in 143 different nursing homes across the state, and Hogan said the facilities account for nearly half of Maryland’s coronavirus deaths. 

The state’s total confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 stands at 985.

Under the order, it will be mandatory for facilities to fully comply with nursing home “strike teams” deployed by the state. All nursing homes must have a physician, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, or registered nurse to evaluate all residents on a daily basis.

Hogan said he was especially concerned that asymptomatic staff members may have been spreading the virus. 

“Even when best practices and care is in place, this virus may still be transmitted by asymptotic staff, meaning that every patient interaction comes with some risk,” Hogan said.

Nursing home industry representatives across the country have been raising the alarm about the dangers of the coronavirus in nursing facilities and the need for increased testing.

But until this week, federal testing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not listed symptomatic people living in long-term-care facilities as a first-tier priority. 

Asymptomatic health-care workers had third-tier priority, and asymptomatic members of the public were considered “non-priority.”

Hogan on Wednesday warned that the numbers of positive cases among staff and residents will inevitably spike, because of the increased testing. 

Nursing homes will be required to have staffing “surge plans” to ensure continuity of care in the event of an outbreak. Hogan said the state will be supplementing the strike teams with “bridge teams” to have emergency clinical staffing. The teams will include a registered nurse and five to seven aides who will be able to care for up to 100 residents per shift. 

Hogan’s order will also require nursing homes to regularly update residents, staff and families about cases within their facilities.

“It is heart wrenching enough that families can’t visit loved ones, but even worse when they can’t get information about what’s going on inside these facilities,” Hogan said.

Yet until this week, Maryland had resisted publicly sharing information about COVID-19 cases and death tolls in nursing homes. 

State health officials on Monday for the first time began posting the data for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to the health department’s coronavirus dashboard.

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