As several states across the U.S. continue to announce new daily death records from COVID-19, Connecticut officials this week said some nursing homes in the state are free to stop testing residents and staff for coronavirus.
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In June, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order allowing nursing homes to pause testing if facilities found no new cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff for at least two weeks.
On Wednesday, a top state public health official said some nursing homes have met that mark.
“We do have a fair number of nursing homes who have reached the threshold,” said Barbara Cass, a section chief who oversees health care quality and safety for the state Department of Public Health. “So we are looking through the 214 nursing homes that we have. We’re trying to get a better understanding as to what the actual number is.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health did not immediately provide a clarification on the number of homes that are cleared to pause testing.
According to the governor’s mandate, testing must resume if a nursing home staff member or resident tests positive for COVID-19.
Still, some residents and advocates are concerned that any pause in testing is out of step with federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a letter to the governor, three legal aid groups said pausing testing could pave the way to new outbreaks of COVID-19 in nursing homes, which account for 65% of Connecticut’s COVID-19 deaths.
Mairead Painter, Connecticut’s long-term care ombudsman who advocates for eldercare residents and their families, said pausing testing is a concern she hears often.
“Residents and family members have been very vocal with me that they feel that testing should continue,” Painter said. “They feel until there’s a period of time when the risk is so low that visitation can begin … that they would like to see testing continue. So that’s what I’ll continue to advocate for on their behalf.”
For facilities that have paused testing, Cass said state public health officials and investigators will check to verify “they have reached their 14-day threshold.”
While coronavirus testing at some nursing homes is now free to stop, others have struggled to begin.
Lamont’s executive order mandated that staff testing begin no later than the week of June 14.
But during a Facebook Live session with Painter on Wednesday, Cass acknowledged some facilities missed that goal by weeks.
“There may be a very small number. It was under 10 homes last week that had not done the actual testing,” Cass said.
Cass said she anticipates every nursing home will have initiated testing this week.
Infection rates in Connecticut eldercare facilities have dropped dramatically in recent weeks. In mid-July, the Department of Public Health reported less than 10% of the state’s nursing homes had one or more COVID-19 cases.