NY ramps up COVID-19 testing of nursing home staff amid outbreaks

NY ramps up COVID-19 testing of nursing home staff amid outbreaks

01/08/2021

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The Cuomo administration has ordered nursing homes statewide to ramp up coronavirus testing of all staffers to twice weekly amid an outbreak of the killer bug at numerous facilities.

The state Health Department issued the edict to double COVID-19 staff testing from weekly to semi-weekly in a letter sent Thursday to 615 nursing homes, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.

“In consideration of the continued and sustained community spread of COVID-19 in all regions of the state, the Commissioner [Howard Zucker] is directing nursing homes to increase the frequency of testing of staff, as an essential measure to protect residents and ensure prompt and appropriate care for staff,” DOH nursing home director Sheila McGarvey said in the letter.

“Operators and administrators of all nursing homes are required to test or arrange for the testing of all personnel, including all employees, contract staff, medical staff, operators and administrators, for COVID-19 twice per week in all nursing homes.”

The state’s call for additional testing also was discussed in a DOH conference call with nursing home operators.

“We were told there were active outbreaks in nursing homes,” said James Clyne, president of Leading Age New York, an advocacy group which represents 200 not-for-profit nursing homes homes.

The outbreaks are not as severe or extensive in nursing homes as last spring, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the coronavirus spread like “fire through dry grass” and killed thousands of frail elderly residents.

Still, the flare-up in cases in nursing homes is concerning. The state has restricted visitations to nursing homes and yet COVID-19 cases continue to pop up, raising questions about how the deadly virus is being transmitted.

More than 7,000 residents have died in nursing homes, according to the Health Department. But that figure does not include nursing home residents who were ill and died in hospitals, which critics of the state’s counting said could double the tally.

Cuomo and the Health Department have been sued after being accused of failing to fully disclose nursing home fatalities under the Freedom of Information law. The case is pending and state officials claim they are complying the law.

The administration also came under a firestorm of criticism for a controversial policy, since rescinded, that directed nursing homes to readmit recovering COVID-19 from hospitals without being tested. Critics claimed the policy accelerated the spread of the virus in nursing homes, while Cuomo and health officials pinned the outbreaks on staffers who didn’t know they were infected.

The state previously ordered nursing homes to conduct twice weekly coronavirus testing on staffers when the pandemic hammered New York in mid-2020. But the requirement was dropped to weekly testing in June after infections dropped — except for nursing homes located in micro-cluster areas where there were a flare-up of cases.

The order gives nursing homes seven days to comply with the order — or face fines or license suspension or revocation. Nursing home operators have complained that the state has been trigger happy in issuing fines for minor reporting delays amid the pandemic.

“Please be advised that any nursing home that fails to comply with this directive may be subject to a penalty of $2,000 per violation per day, and $10,000 per violation per day for any subsequent violations. Additionally, the Department may suspend or revoke such facilities operating certificate, and a receiver appointed to continue operations on 24 hours’ notice.

Health officials said they will distribute half the weekly tests to nursing homes to help them meet the semi-weekly directive. DOH will distribute Abbott Laboratories’ Binax NOW rapid antigen test to nursing homes, which will be used as the second weekly test given to all staffers.

DOH spokesman Gary Holmes said 586,000 of the Abbott rapid tests will be sent to 600 nursing homes. Federal funds will be used to cover the costs.

The Health Department calls up to 50 nursing homes a day to get a read on COVID infection rate.

“We are seeing an increase in community spread in all corners of the state and that has translated into an increase in these facilities,” Holmes said.

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