May 12, 2020
Pennsylvania officials rolled out a plan Tuesday to bolster COVID-19 testing at longterm care facilities, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus.
All residents and staffers at facilities with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases should immediately be tested, according to guidelines issued by the Department of Health. Facilities without any cases should test 20% of residents and staff each week. Additionally, any nursing home resident who has been in the hospital must be tested before returning.
The universal testing strategy will help nursing homes and other facilities better identify sick people, particularly those who do not show symptoms, state officials said. Anyone with COVID-19 should be isolated from healthy people.
State officials said they previously did not have the capacity to implement the strategy.
Pennsylvania now is receiving test swabs from the federal government to ensure longterm care facilities have adequate supply, and the Pennsylvania National Guard is providing a mobile testing option for nursing homes that may not be able to test staff and residents on their own.
"Our nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and we have taken swift action to protect them," Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement. "COVID-19 is a particularly challenging situation for these skilled nursing settings as they care for residents with serious medical conditions. We will continue to work to ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents through education, resources and testing."
Pennsylvania reported an additional 857 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 57,991. There have been 13,854 cases identified at 540 longterm care facilities. That accounts for 24% of Pennsylvania's total.
The death toll is even more grim. The 2,611 deaths at longterm care facilities account for 68% of the 3,806 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office has launched criminal investigations into several longterm care facilities in previous weeks, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.
Shapiro did not say which nursing homes were under investigation, but insisted that his office will investigate any longterm care facility that neglects residents and staff. His office also set up an email address – neglect-COVID@attorneygeneral.gov – for people to reports of neglect.
"We will hold nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones," Shapiro said in a statement. "While we salute and appreciate nursing home staff on the front lines during this pandemic, we will not tolerate those who mistreat our seniors and break the law."