State must test in all nursing homes

With information only testing can provide, the owner of a Toledo nursing home was able to properly isolate infected people.

The Editorial Board
Sat, 23 May 2020 04:00:00 GMT

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We know that in Ohio, a large proportion of our coronavirus deaths have happened in the state’s nursing homes. About 675 of Ohio’s coronavirus deaths, roughly 43 percent, have been people who died in nursing homes.

We don’t know enough, however, about how many nursing home coronavirus cases there are or where, exactly, they are. And Ohio needs to fix this.

The answer is a comprehensive coronavirus testing program that should, now, be possible with the state’s rapidly expanding capacity for testing.

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Getting a grip on the spread of coronavirus throughout the state requires being able to accurately detect and quickly react to outbreaks in nursing homes, particularly since we have discovered that asymptomatic infected people can and do unwittingly spread the disease.

At Merit House, a 53-bed Toledo nursing home, recent coronavirus testing of all residents and staff members yielded surprising results. Two residents’ tests came back positive and three staff members showed signs of having antibodies for a virus that, for them, never presented symptoms.

With this information — which only comprehensive testing can provide — the owner said the facility was able to properly isolate infected people.

Not every nursing home has the access yet to enough testing to comprehensively test their facility. Others may not be able to afford such an endeavor. And even if tests were more accessible or more affordable, it would be unlikely for every nursing home to be able to consistently use the same protocols for testing without a statewide framework to guide them.

That’s why state government must step in and oversee a comprehensive testing program and make sure each nursing home has the tests and the guidance to do it.

Gov. Mike DeWine has announced the National Guard will have a role in a nursing home testing program, about which he will reveal details soon. Help from the guard surely is welcome, but the program’s most important elements should be that it is universal and that nursing homes have the ability to test all staff and residents, and that the data be quickly and consistently made public.

Having that data can then allow the state’s forthcoming contact-tracing team to track infections and isolate people who have the virus to help halt the spread of coronavirus.

Some critics of comprehensive testing have expressed concerns with the “fairness” of revealing how many cases each nursing home has. The issue in the front of everyone’s minds should be finding the infected residents and staff and using that information to help stem the pandemic. What’s more, an accurate and complete accounting of the virus cases in Ohio’s care homes will, undoubtedly, show that despite best efforts, the virus has managed to slip into every facility. Shirking a responsibility to properly test for the deadly virus among a vulnerable population to avoid a bad image is unconscionable.

After months of tracking this virus and learning about its spread, Ohio should now be in a position to coordinate a testing program that can help make the residents and employees at the state’s nursing homes safer. It’s time to deploy that program.