Indiana health officials announced Wednesday that they plan to test all employees at long-term care facilities for COVID-19 by the end of the month, but widespread testing for residents is still not part of the plan.
Nursing homes across the country have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. In Indiana, 945 of the state’s more than 2,000 deaths have involved residents at the facilities. There have been 4,357 positive cases involving residents at 240 facilities statewide, and 150 facilities have experienced at least one resident death due to the virus.
In mid-May, the White House recommended that governors find a way to test all nursing home staff members and residents to help prevent the spread of the disease, but Indiana officials said it wasn’t feasible because of limited testing capabilities at that time.
Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer for Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said Wednesday during Gov. Eric Holcomb’s press briefing that the state believes it can now test all long-term care facility employees by the end of June or early July.
“This will be a really important step in preventing future outbreaks,” Rusyniak said. “We know that the majority of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities occur when a staff member contracts the virus and unknowingly brings it into the facility.”
But Rusyniak said widespread testing of all residents is still not part of the plan. Instead, the state will continue to test residents once they may have been exposed to someone else who has tested positive or if they are showing symptoms.
“The goal of this program at first is—let’s identify all of the staff at long-term care facilities that might be working unknowingly with COVID,” Rusyniak said. “If we identify staff in a facility with COVID, then we will follow up as we do now…. to go in and test all of the residents in that facility who might have had a direct exposure.”
Rusyniak also said the state plans to issue new guidelines on nursing home visitations so family and friends will be allowed to have social interactions with residents in outdoor settings under certain conditions.
He said the risk of COVID-19 transmission is “much lower outdoors,” so he believes such visits will help balance keeping residents safe and allowing for in-person interactions.
Rusyniak said the guidelines will consider the COVID-19 cases in each community and facility, and guests will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before visits are allowed.
“This is not a final solution,” Rusyniak said. “We recognize that this will not allow everyone in a facility to be visited at this time. This is just a first step.”
Earlier in the same press briefing, Indiana State Health Commissioner Kris Box said she wants the number of individuals tested to continue to increase, encouraging anyone who needs a test to find a location near them.
More than 200 testing sites throughout the state are available, Box said.
“While testing was a challenge early on because of limited supplies, that situation has changed significantly,” Box said.
Box said the state has renewed its contract with OptumServe, a subsidiary of United Health Group, through the end of June to continue offering 50 testing sites with the capacity to test up to 30,000 individuals weekly.
The contract extension will cost the state an additional $23.3 million, on top of the $17.9 million it already spent, for a total cost of $41.2 million.