The administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday backed off its demand that nursing homes test all residents and staff for the new coronavirus weekly, instead ordering them to complete a single baseline test.
Wolf had vowed last month that weekly testing would start June 1, saying his administration had a plan in place to accomplish it. Health experts were skeptical, citing logistical, operational and financial hurdles to an ambitious testing regime that would have involved well over 100,000 people in long-term care homes statewide.
Dr. Rachel Levine, the state health secretary, on Monday ordered nursing homes to conduct a baseline test of all residents and staff by July 24. The Health Department also issued revised testing guidance that recommends universal testing only if a facility has a new confirmed infection.
In that case, testing of all residents and staff should continue once a week until the home has gone 14 days without a positive test, the guidance says.
"Our goal with implementing this testing in nursing homes is to rapidly detect asymptomatic positive residents and staff in order to manage their care and prevent further transmission of COVID-19, " Levine said at a news conference.
More than 75 nursing homes have widely tested residents and staff. But other facilities have lacked the capability, and officials acknowledged that routine weekly testing at all homes statewide was too ambitious.
"As we have worked with and heard concerns from facilities, we realized that testing in that amount of time may not be feasible," Levine's spokesman, Nate Wardle, said Monday.
Care homes struggled for months to contain the virus, with many lacking the trained staff, testing supplies and personal protective equipment in the early going that could have helped them slow the spread, public health experts say.
Residents of long-term care homes account for more than two-thirds of the statewide death toll of about 6,000, a higher proportion that in most other states. Infections and deaths at nursing homes peaked in late April and have been trending down ever since.