SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Mass testing at South Dakota nursing homes may be a snapshot in time but it will provide a baseline on the coronavirus situation at those homes, the state’s Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said during a Department of Health news briefing.
South Dakota has 104 licensed nursing homes. Based on a 2017 DOH study, South Dakota has about 6,600 beds with at least 5,000 residents.
Mass COVID-19 testing at the nursing homes started this week. About one week ago, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence announced they’d recommend all U.S. nursing homes conduct COVID-19 testing by the end of May.
Residents of nursing homes are among the most people most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Bethel Lutheran Home in Madison will start testing next week.
The COVID-19 testing will help determine if asymptomatic residents or staff are at the nursing home, said Bethel’s president and chief executive officer Chuck Johnson.
“Since it is possible for someone to spread COVID-19 without experiencing symptoms, testing can help to identify people who may be unknowingly carrying the virus,” Joseph Rees, DO, Avera geriatrician and Avera eCARE® Senior Care Medical Officer, said in a news release on Tuesday.
Any Avera employee who tests positive will be asked to self-isolate at home for 10 days, and any resident who tests positive will be cared for in a designated area or location that’s separate from other residents, according to the Avera news release.
Malsam-Rysdon said nursing homes need to determine how they will conduct the tests and what lab they will use to process the tests.
The DOH has an out-of-state lab that nursing homes can use if they don’t have access to a lab, Malsam-Rysdon said.
Bethel already has a prior relationship with a lab, Johnson said.
The DOH will include the nursing home COVID-19 tests results in daily updates, Malsam-Rysdon said.
Mass testing of nursing homes can skew daily COVID-19 testing reports, for example, for percentage positive rate of all tests.
The percentage positive rate, “really does depend on how much testing is done,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
Nursing homes have already been taking daily temperatures and asking screening questions of staff and residents.
Avera says it has been conducting regular screening of staff and residents.
Johnson said the daily temperature checks and question will continue at Bethel after COVID-19 testing is done.
Malsam-Rysdon said the mass testing is a way to protect a vulnerable population in the state. When mass testing is completed the state will move on to weekly random sample testing at nursing homes, she said.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released recommendations May 18 for COVID-19 responses in nursing homes. CMS has been working with nursing homes on COVID-19 response since Feb. 6. The recommendations include adequate access to testing.