The Cuomo administration has ordered nursing homes statewide to step up coronavirus testing of all staff to twice a week amid an outbreak of the killer virus at many facilities.
The state health department issued an executive order to double staff testing for COVID-19 from one week to half a week in a letter sent Thursday to 615 nursing homes, a copy of which has been obtained by The Post.
“Given the continued and sustained community spread of COVID-19 in all regions of the state, the Commissioner [Howard Zucker] orders nursing homes to increase the frequency of staff testing, as a critical measure to protect residents and ensure timely and appropriate care for staff, ”said Sheila McGarvey, DOH Nursing Home Director in the letter.
“Operators and administrators of all nursing homes are required to test or arrange for testing of all staff, including all employees, contract staff, medical staff, operators and administrators, for COVID -19 twice a week in all nursing homes.
The state’s call for additional testing was also discussed during a DOH conference call with nursing home operators.
“We were told there were active outbreaks in nursing homes,” said James Clyne, president of Leading Age New York, an advocacy group that represents 200 nonprofit nursing homes.
Outbreaks are not as severe or widespread in nursing homes as they were last spring, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the coronavirus had spread like ‘fire through dry grass’ and killed thousands frail elderly residents.
Still, the surge in cases in nursing homes is worrying. The state has restricted visits to nursing homes and yet cases of COVID-19 continue to emerge, raising questions about how the deadly virus is transmitted.
More than 7,000 residents have died in nursing homes, according to the Ministry of Health. But that figure does not include nursing home residents who were ill and died in hospitals, which critics of the state’s tally say could double the total.
Cuomo and the Department of Health were prosecuted after being accused of failing to fully disclose deaths in nursing homes under the Freedom of Information Act. The case is pending and officials say they are following the law.
The administration has also been the subject of a storm of criticism for a controversial, since-canceled policy that ordered nursing homes to readmit COVID-19 recovering to hospitals without being tested. Critics have claimed that the policy has accelerated the spread of the virus in nursing homes, while Cuomo and health officials pinned the outbreaks on staff members who were unaware they were infected.
The state previously ordered nursing homes to conduct twice-weekly coronavirus testing on staff when the pandemic hit New York City in mid-2020. But the requirement was dropped to weekly testing in June after infections fell – with the exception of nursing homes located in micro-cluster areas where there was a surge in cases.
The order gives nursing homes seven days to comply with the order – or face fines or license suspension or revocation. Nursing home operators have complained that the state has been happy to hand down fines for minor delays in reporting amid the pandemic.
“Please note that any nursing home that does not comply with this directive may be subject to a fine of $ 2,000 per violation per day and $ 10,000 per violation per day for any subsequent violation. In addition, the Department may suspend or revoke the operating certificate for these facilities and an appointed receiver to continue operations with 24 hours notice.
Health officials said they would distribute half of the weekly tests to nursing homes to help them meet the semi-weekly guideline. The DOH will distribute Abbott Laboratories’ Binax NOW rapid antigen test to nursing homes, which will be used as a second weekly test given to all staff.
DOH spokesman Gary Holmes said 586,000 of the Abbott rapid tests will be sent to 600 nursing homes. Federal funds will be used to cover the costs.
The health department is calling up to 50 nursing homes a day to get a reading of the COVID infection rate.
“We are seeing an increase in community spread across all corners of the state and that has translated into an increase in these facilities,” said Holmes.