Half Of U.S. States To Fall Short Of White House Goal On Nursing Home Testing

By Jack Brewster, Forbes, May 24, 2020.

At least half of U.S. states will not meet a White House goal on nursing home testing due to costs and a lack of resources, an Associated Press analysis found, in another indication of the patchwork response to the pandemic in the absence of a coordinated national response.

Nursing homes have been ravaged by the virus outbreak, as the disease has had a disproportionately lethal effect on the elderly; on May 9, the New York Times reported that one-third of all U.S. virus deaths were in nursing homes. 

Almost two weeks ago, on May 11, the White House recommended — but did not order — governors ensure all nursing home residents and staff get tested for the coronavirus in the next 14 days, in a message relayed by Vice President Pence on a video conference call with the nation’s governors.

“We really believe that all 1 million nursing home residents need to be tested within next two weeks as well as the staff,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House task force coordinator, told the governors on the call.

Nearly two weeks later, the Associated Press found that at least half of the states will not meet the White House threshold; only a few, including West Virginia and Rhode Island, have indicated they reached the goal already.

Many states said they lacked the logistics, costs and personnel to conduct such an effort in such a short time span. 

Other states, such as Nebraska, told the AP they were not going to try and reach the goal and were instead sticking to Centers For Disease Control guidelines, which call for testing individually when nursing home residents show symptoms or if there is a new confirmed virus case in a home. 

When asked why he was not making the nursing home test goal an order on May 11, Trump said he would “consider it.” “I would certainly consider that”, he said during a press conference. “I will mandate it if you’d like.”

Nebraska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Anthone told the Associated Press that it was “fairly useless” to test every nursing home resident because the state would need to test everyone daily for it to be effective. Right now, most states don’t have the capacity to do that. 

A lack of testing has beset the U.S. since the beginning of the outbreak, an issue federal officials said, was the result of supply chain issues and a botched rollout by the Centers for Disease Control. Many governors argued that the federal government should have done more to help states get the materials they needed to ramp up testing in the early weeks of the outbreak.

Health officials say widespread testing is crucial to reopening safely because it allows states to identify and trace outbreaks as they happen. But experts say most states are still not testing enough people to prevent a surge in cases.