California is calling for all residents and health care workers at skilled nursing facilities to be tested for the new coronavirus to try to slow the spread of the illness.
The state’s Department of Public Health issued a letter saying facilities should draft testing plans for all residents in settings without cases and all residents who have been exposed to the virus, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. It also calls for testing of residents admitted from hospitals and says those who test negative should be quarantined for 14 days and then retested.
“Mandatory testing will provide the knowledge we all need to make informed care decisions,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary.
The letter comes as the state's 1,200 skilled nursing facilities have struggled with the virus, which spreads quickly in congregate living facilities and among elderly and frail residents.
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More than 1,600 residents of these facilities who had the virus died, accounting for roughly 40% of California's total virus deaths, state data shows.
The move follows similar requirements in other states including New York.
Deborah Pacyna, a spokeswoman for the California Association of Healthcare Facilities, said the testing is necessary and that the association has long pushed for nursing homes to be a priority for virus testing.
“This became more urgent after we learned in mid April that asymptomatic workers were unknowingly carrying the virus and infecting the very residents in their care,” she said.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.