Indiana health officials say White House recommendation for testing nursing homes isn’t feasible

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INDIANAPOLIS — On Monday, the White House strongly recommended to governors that all nursing home residents and staff be tested for COVID-19 in the next two weeks.

Indiana’s Joint Information Center told CBS4 that while the state shares the aspirational goal of testing every person and staff in a long-term care facility, accomplishing that feat within two weeks is not feasible. 

The trade association that represents Hoosier nursing homes, Indiana Health Care Association, also believes that task is unlikely in the state.

Our most vulnerable population inside long-term care facilities is a target for COVID-19. More than 40% of virus deaths statewide are connected to these centers.

“Testing is essential. We are heartened that the federal government is turning its attention to long-term care facilities,” said Zach Cattell, president of IHCA.

President Donald Trump said Monday he would consider mandating states to test all nursing home residents and staff.

“I think it is important to do, and frankly, some of the governors were very lax in respect to nursing homes,” said Trump during a briefing on the Rose Garden.

IHCA President Cattell explained it should be a recommendation that the state test nursing facility residents and employees, but he does not think it can be done in the next two weeks.

“I don’t think that is a reality in Indiana,” he said. “We wish it were. We wish it was a reality right now.”

During a press briefing on Monday, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box explained it would mean testing roughly 100,000 people in two weeks.

That would be a challenge since it took Indiana roughly two and a half months to test roughly 150,500 people.

“We have used the limited testing we have had across the state very judiciously, especially in our long-term care facilities, and have been very careful to test even asymptomatic individuals there,” said Dr. Box Monday.

We asked Governor Eric Holcomb’s office if he planned to direct state health officials to test all nursing home residents and staff in two weeks. His spokesperson said the governor agrees with Dr. Box, and long-term care employees who wish to be tested can sign up for an appointment at any of the Optum test sites.

State health officials said Indiana continues a focused, intentional testing and response program in long-term care facilities. They explained facilities are encouraged to conduct their own testing as well.

“Initially, strike teams worked to conduct testing to identify and help manage outbreaks in facilities, and teams are continuing that work and testing exposed residents. Educating facilities, reducing exposure risk and monitoring for symptoms so that appropriate actions can be taken remains the focus,” said the Joint Information Center.

We know several centers have turned to private labs to test more residents and employees.

“Piecemealing these things together over time to create more private lab testing is what is going to be the key in order to sustain the right amount of testing in order to contain the virus as best possible,” said Cattell.

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