Dr. Konetzka: “[I]t is very important to test all residents, and not wait until residents are…symptomatic, because by then it's too late.”
Washington, D.C.—Last night, the Maine Centers for Disease Control confirmed 57 COVID-19 cases at a long-term care facility in Cape Elizabeth. These numbers reflect a tragic reality that residents and staff at nursing homes are at the highest risk to the virus. In Maine, more than 50 percent of COVID-19 deaths have been residents of long-term care facilities, significantly above the national average.
At an Aging Committee hearing yesterday focused on what can be done to better protect this vulnerable population, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Committee, reiterated her strong support for regularly testing all residents and staff to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Senator Collins directed her first question at the hearing to Dr. Tamara Konetzka, a professor of health services research at the University of Chicago, who has conducted research on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on nursing home residents and staff. She asked Dr. Konetzka to explain how testing can protect residents and eventually allow family members to safely visit their loved ones.
“Dr. Konetzka, I want to have you expand a little bit more on what we can do,” said Senator Collins. “I believe that you recommended universal testing for every nursing home resident and staff, which I think is a good idea and have been recommending. How often, however, would you have to do that, and would that allow family members who have been tested to finally be able to visit their loved ones?”
“[I]t is very important to test all residents, and not wait until residents are…symptomatic, because by then it's too late,” Dr. Konetzka replied. “[W]hat I’ve heard from geriatricians is generally weekly [testing] would be good or at least biweekly, so that residents can then be separated and the transmission can be stopped.”
Senator Collins emphasized that testing was needed at every long-term care facility, since even the highest rated nursing homes have been susceptible to outbreaks.
“[T]he ratings by CMS, the number of stars, has not proven to be a reliable indicator of which nursing homes are safest in this environment. And indeed, one of the worst outbreaks in Maine was at a nursing home that had five stars,” remarked Senator Collins. “[W]hen we hear the statistics, which are so devastating…my heart just goes out not only to these patients, but to their families and to the staff of nursing homes and other assisted living facilities, congregate care settings. They’re all praying that COVID-19 does not find its way into their facility.”
Senator Collins also called for the release of additional health care provider funding that was made available through the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act.