NY requires twice-weekly virus testing for nursing home staff

May 11, 2020

New York nursing homes must start twice-weekly coronavirus testing for all staffers and will no longer be sent COVID-19 patients leaving hospitals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday after facing criticism over the handling of nursing facility outbreaks.

The new testing requirements and ban on hospitals sending coronavirus patients to nursing homes came a day after an AP report in which residents’ relatives, nursing home watchdogs and politicians from both parties criticized the Cuomo administration’s policies on both.

They second-guessed a state directive as requiring nursing homes to take on new residents infected with COVID-19 — an order that critics said accelerated outbreaks in facilities that are prime breeding grounds for infectious diseases.

Albert Pautler visits his wife Marilyn through the window at the Elderwood nursing home in Lancaster. Nursing homes have banned visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit Albert Pautler

Of the nation’s more than 26,000 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, a fifth of them — about 5,300 — are in New York, according to a count by The Associated Press.

That’s the highest number of nursing home deaths in the country, though other states have also struggled to control the virus in nursing facilities. Indeed, they account for a higher percentage of coronavirus deaths in most other states, Cuomo said.

Critics have faulted New York for taking weeks to release the number of deaths in individual homes, for still not releasing the number of cases and for not conducting or requiring widespread testing in the facilities.

Now, workers will be tested twice a week, Cuomo said. Residents will be tested as much as possible, he said.

A March 25 state health department directive said nursing homes couldn’t refuse new or returning residents because they tested positive for the virus. The policy, similar to one in neighboring New Jersey, was intended to help free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged.

Now, “we’re just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after a hospital visit,” Cuomo said Sunday. He said such patients would be accommodated elsewhere, such as sites originally set up as temporary hospitals.

The new policy still allows nursing homes to take some people with COVID-19, such as those who are at home and need care. But hospitals are responsible for finding alternatives for the patients they discharge, and nursing facilities shouldn’t take on coronavirus patients if unable to care for them, Cuomo said.

The Democrat also emphasized that nursing homes should transfer any person they can’t care for.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death.