Oct. 30 (UPI) — Nearly one-third of skilled nursing facilities situated in COVID-19 hot spots across the United States still are waiting three days or more for virus test results for staff and residents as of the end of September, according to a report published Friday by JAMA Internal Medicine.
Nationally, just under 40% of all of these facilities — which including residential and rehabilitation centers staffed with nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and audiologists — indicated that it took three days or more to receive COVID-19 test results for residents and staff, the data showed.
The findings were as of Sept. 27, or more than two months after Medicare began to distribute rapid, point-of-care tests to generate results in one day or less to these facilities, the researchers said.
While the number of facilities receiving test results in a day or less doubled in some areas during September, researchers say the progress is not sufficient enough.
“Rapid testing turnaround is critical to prevent outbreaks in nursing homes — and elsewhere — but only a tiny fraction of homes have access to turnaround that is less than one day,” study co-author Dr. Michael L. Barnett told UPI.
“With slower turnaround, staff with COVID-19 and no symptoms will circulate in a facility and spread infection before the positive test comes back,” said Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the country were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the spring, accounting for 40% of all virus-related deaths nationally, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As a result, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began to distribute “rapid” virus testing kits to these facilities in July. The tests could be administered on-site and provide results in one day or less, agency officials said.
The agency requires facilities located in areas with low rates — less than 5% — of COVID-19 transmission to test residents and staff members monthly.
However, those based in hot spots — with up to 10% or more of virus transmission — should be testing staff and residents at least twice weekly, according to officials.
For this analysis, Barnett and his colleagues analyzed data from 15,065 — or 98% — of the skilled nursing facilities included in the Medicare COVID-19 Nursing Home Database. The database is a federally mandated weekly assessment of all Medicare-certified facilities, to examine facility-reported test result turnaround time.
As of Sept. 27, 14% of all facilities nationally said they received COVID-19 test results for staff members in one day or less, up from 6.2% three weeks earlier, the data showed.
By that same date, 10% of facilities reported getting test results for residents in one day or less, an increase from 5% earlier in the month.
In “hot spot counties” — with high rates of community spread of the virus — the number of facilities that reported test turnaround of one day or less rose to 16% for staff members and 13% for residents by Sept. 27, from 10% and 9%, respectively, on Sept. 7.
Nationally, test result turnaround time was three days or longer for staff members at 40% of Medicare-certified skilled nursing facilities and 37% for residents, as of Sept. 27, down from 55% and 46%, respectively, on Sept. 7.
In hot-spot counties, 30% of facilities reported waiting three days or more for staff member and resident test results as of Sept. 27, down from approximately 40% three weeks earlier, the researchers said.
“Medicare has distributed point-of-care testing kits to nursing homes that are quite fast but they have challenges too [because] they require expensive supplies and put the burden of running tests on nursing home staff rather than another lab,” Barnett told UPI.
“The frequency of testing required by Medicare is reasonable, but without better turnaround it is not useful [as] some facilities have turnaround so slow that they may not have results back until they perform the next round of screening,” he said.