Testing of All Maryland Nursing Home Residents, Staff Slow Going Despite Governor's Mandate 2 Weeks Ago

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With deaths mounting at the nation's nursing homes, the White House has now strongly recommended all residents and staff be tested for COVID-19 in the next two weeks.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan already mandated testing at all nursing homes statewide April 29, but the News4 I-Team learned it's been slow to get going.

"I was thinking my mother would be tested within a week," said Darrell, who lives in Rockville and requested his last name be withheld.

His 82-year-old mother lives in a nursing home where three staff members have tested positive, but she and other residents have yet to be tested.

So far, the home has told him it has no residents infected with COVID-19, but he wonders if that's just because they haven't been tested.

"If we test everybody, all staff and all patients, then we know where the help is needed," Darrell said. "I think they need to do it yesterday."

Coronavirus Cases & Deaths in Long-Term Care Facilities

COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities in D.C. and Maryland.

Source: Maryland Coronavirus, DC Coronavirus Data
Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBC Washington

He watched as the governor announced mandatory testing for all residents and staff at Maryland's 226 nursing homes two weeks ago — days after touting the arrival of 500,000 test kits from South Korea. 

"What you need to be able to say to Marylanders is, 'This is how many tests we’re able to perform a day. This is what our goal is,'" said Congressman Anthony Brown, who has urged the state to find ways to ramp up testing more quickly.

Hogan says he's working to increase lab capacity to run the tests and the number of swabs needed to perform them.

"We don't have the capacity. The state does not have the capacity to do mandatory testing at our nursing homes," said Brown. "They don't have it."

At least not right away, agrees Joe DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland (HFAM). 

"You can't test everybody in Maryland at exactly the same time. Even if you had 50,000 tests on one day, you couldn't do it with the tests and the lab," DeMattos said.

DeMattos said HFAM is now partnering with an infection control management practice called AMS Onsite to prioritize helping with testing at Maryland's long-term care facilities.

The testing will have to be done in an organized way over a period of weeks, because more tests will undoubtedly mean more staff in quarantine. The homes will have to make arrangements to fill those positions.

DeMattos estimates it will take three to four weeks to test the state's 16,000 nursing home residents and the 36,000 employees, adding that the employees really should be tested repeatedly.

"Because they're going home every day, and they have lives, and their status can change," DeMattos said.

He said in some ways, staff tests will be more important, because most residents aren't leaving their rooms. Since you can have COVID-19 with no symptoms, the staff are likely one of the main ways the virus is spreading.

"As it has advanced, best practice has become that employees need to work in just one center," DeMattos said. 

Maryland has already confirmed at least 7,538 positive cases among residents and staff at long-term care facilities and 995 deaths. That's 59% of all the deaths statewide.

"It's extremely difficult," said Darrell. "Especially when you can't touch them, hold them, kiss them, tell them you love them."

He said his mom's test can't come fast enough. The facility told him it has already started training staff on how to conduct the tests.

"It would be peace of mind knowing that she's not positive and that she has some good years left," Darrell said.

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.

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