White House recommends universal testing at nursing homes, state says there’s not enough tests

Testing nursing home residents and staff

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The White House wants every person living and working in a nursing home to be tested for COVID-19 in the next two weeks.

Vice President Mike Pence advised governors during a conference call Monday about this recommendation, and Tuesday, Governor Kay Ivey’s office said there aren’t enough tests.

In an email, Governor Ivey’s press secretary said, “We agree that this would be strong guidance, however, to test every resident and staff in Alabama nursing homes would be in the tens of thousands. At this point, we do not have enough access to testing, and Governor Ivey is not seeking to issue an unfunded mandate. However, we continue to exhaust all efforts to address and care for our most vulnerable and encourage nursing homes to take extraordinary measures in areas of sanitation and hygiene.”

As of Tuesday, more than 1,000 residents and 660 employees of long-term care facilities, which includes nursing homes and assisted living facilities, had been infected with COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). Forty-two percent of COVID-19 deaths happened in these facilities, said a spokesperson with ADPH.

ADPH has not released specifics of where these infections and deaths have occurred, but the Alabama Nursing Home Association (ANHA) said 103 of the state’s 231 nursing homes have had at least one case of COVID-19.

“We can’t treat what we don’t know and that’s why testing is so important. If we know someone is positive or we know is someone is negative, that allows us to properly treat them and take care of them,” said John Matson, Communications Director, ANHA. “That’s what we’ve said all along – nursing homes deserve priority for testing and we need access to that testing and once you administer that test kit, you need those results back in a timely manner so you can act upon them.”

Matson is still awaiting more information before commenting on the White House’s recommendation for universal testing but said access to testing has been a constant struggle for nursing homes in Alabama.

“Certainly, there’s a number of challenges,” said Matson. “One is making sure we have sufficient access to [personal protective equipment], another is making sure we have access to testing, get the test results, the other is making sure we have proper guidance and information from the various authorities that we report to, such as ADPH, the CDC and [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services].”

“We just know that this is going to be a continuing battle in our nursing homes for some time. As we have more testing and those results come in, you are certainly going to see more cases but that is a good thing because it allows us to best know how to treat that individual,” said Matson.

The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs manages 4 veterans homes, including the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home where 23 people have died from COVID-19. A spokesman for ADVA said Commissioner Kent Davis has advocated for universal testing.

In an email, the spokesman said, “We are working with the Alabama Department of Public Health to begin testing all residents of the state veterans homes as resources for more testing become available.”

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