By Yustin Riopko
RALEIGH – The NC Department of Health and Human Sciences now mandates COVID-19 testing every two weeks for all nursing home staff.
Previously, DHHS guidance only recommended biweekly testing. None was required unless a facility had already seen a positive case.
The state will leverage federal CARES Act funding to help pay for this mandate through November, according to NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen.
“As we have come to understand, a person can have the virus and not know it,” Cohen said at an Aug. 7 press briefing. “Thus testing all staff proactively every two weeks allows us to identify asymptomatic cases early and prevent spread to residents who are at high risk.”
This mandate is part of an ongoing effort to protect a demographic Cohen said is threatened most by this pandemic.
“Many are elderly, and many are medically frail with multiple chronic medical conditions, putting them at higher risk for severe illness and worse outcomes,” Cohen said. “We also know that the virus spreads most efficiently when people live in group settings and are gathered together in one place. The communal nature of nursing home facilities can make it difficult to control a COVID-19 outbreak.”
Throughout July and early August, the state has tested more than 49,000 residents and staff in NC nursing homes.
NCDHHS requires facilities promptly report new COVID-19 cases to local health departments, so the state can provide technical assistance containing and controlling outbreaks. NCDHHS has distributed protective equipment like masks, gloves and face shields to every nursing home in the state, as well as made efforts to keep facilities staffed by making employee referrals and providing training support.
Cohen reported that when outbreaks occur now at a nursing home in North Carolina compared to earlier in the pandemic, they last fewer weeks and infect fewer residents.
“Our strategy and hard work is helping on a number of fronts,” Cohen said. “We have fewer cases [in nursing homes] than many many states, but there is still more work to do.”
Cohen believes everyone plays a role in protecting nursing homes, not just caregivers.
“I want to highlight that every COVID-19 infection that reaches a nursing home started somewhere else,” Cohen said. “Slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities means that those who work in nursing home settings are less likely to be exposed to the virus, and thus less likely to bring it back to a nursing home where they work.”