DHHR Completes Nursing Home COVID-19 Testing


CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has concluded its testing of residents and staff at nursing homes, while testing of assisted-living facilities and daycare staff continues.

Dr. Cathy Slemp, state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health at DHHR, gave an update Tuesday on the results of nursing home testing that took place over a two-week period at the end of April.

DHHR, along with the help of the West Virginia National Guard, conducted testing at 123 nursing home facilities and tested 9,000 residents and nearly 14,000 staff members.

In 71% of nursing homes, there were no COVID-19 cases among residents and staff before the April 17 executive order by Gov. Jim Justice that called for testing. In 6 percent of facilities, COVID-19 had already been identified before the executive order, while 23% of facilities — 28 facilities in total — were newly identified as having at least one unique individual who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Of the more approximately 23,000 people tested, .18% of residents and staff tested positive for COVID-19 – .12% of residents and .23% of staff.

Slemp said one of the biggest challenges that nursing homes faced is many seniors are either asymptomatic – meaning they show none of the symptoms for the coronavirus, or show few symptoms, which delays possible diagnosis. Prior to the April 17 executive order, major outbreaks occurred at nursing home facilities.

“Getting an early diagnosis can really have implications for infection control which are pretty important,” Slemp said. “We also know from experience that once COVID-19 is introduced into a nursing home and begins to take hold, then it really has the potential to spread rapidly and widely in both residents and staff.”

Justice ordered all nursing homes be tested, or in some cases re-tested, after major outbreaks in nursing homes in Monongalia, Kanawha, Wayne and Jackson counties. The catalyst was an outbreak at Eldercare Health and Rehabilitation in Ripley when the facility waited nearly a week before testing all residents and staff after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of April.

“Out of great concern for the health and well being of our seniors in our facilities, Gov. Justice issued an executive order directing all our nursing home residents and the staff to be testing for COVID-19. As you know, we were the first state in the nation to systematically do this. Others are following suit,” Slemp said.

Eldercare remains under investigation by DHHR. As of Tuesday, 68 residents and 32 staff members have tested positive at Eldercare with a total of 13 deaths – the worst outbreak among the 123 nursing homes tested.

Now, the state has moved on to testing residents and staff at assisted-living facilities and staff of daycares. According to DHHR, 67 of the state’s 94 assisted-living facilities have been tested for a total of 2,803 people tested with 1,818 tests coming back negative and 980 tests results pending with no new positives to date. For daycare testing, with 721 tests coming back negative, three positive tests with additional tests pending. Slemp praised the National Guard and county health departments for their work.

“Thank you for all that took part in a really colossal initiative,” Slemp said. “It definitely took the work of many working very fast together.”


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