The Trump administration will require nursing homes test staff for COVID-19, and facilities that don’t comply could face financial penalties.
The new requirement, issued Tuesday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and effective immediately, comes about six months after the virus began circulating in American nursing homes, killing tens of thousands of mostly elderly residents and sickening hundreds of thousands more.
During the early stages of the pandemic, there were not enough kits available to perform tests on staff members.
Now, six months into the pandemic, enough testing is available to require testing of staff, who are thought to be the main spreaders of the virus in nursing homes.
Previously, the testing of staff was only recommended.
“While we’ve had good compliance across the country, we want to make sure every single nursing home is doing this,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.
“The reason why we're moving to a requirement is to make sure that we have that consistency across the country to keep every single nursing home resident safe,” she added.
The Trump administration had previously announced it would send rapid point of care tests to every nursing home in the U.S.
Nursing homes must offer tests to residents, who can refuse to take one. The results must then be reported to the federal government so it can detect outbreaks and send assistance when needed.
“We can't force our nursing home residents, nor would we want to, have something that they may not be comfortable with, so it is offered,” Verma said.
The frequency of staff testing will be based on how widely COVID-19 is spreading in the community, and surveyors will be sent to nursing homes to ensure the new requirements are being followed. More details will be provided in forthcoming guidance from CMS.
CMS also announced Tuesday that hospitals will be required to report daily information about the number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, ICU beds occupied and availability of essential supplies.
Many hospitals are voluntarily reporting this data, according to CMS, but not all are. Labs must also report results daily to the Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency of CMS.