Hogan orders all nursing home residents and staff to be tested for COVID-19

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Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday announced new actions to limit the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and poultry plants. Image via Facebook Live.

All residents and staff at all Maryland nursing homes will now be required to undergo testing for COVID-19, regardless of whether they are displaying symptoms, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered Wednesday.

The state will prioritize nursing homes based on “an imminent outbreak or a current rising threat of an outbreak,” Hogan said.

The executive order also requires all nursing homes to have a medical professional evaluate residents every day.

The order comes after state health officials released data revealing that nursing homes accounted for about one-fifth of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland and nearly half of the state’s deaths due to the virus.

Hogan said the state expects the number of confirmed cases among residents and staff to “significantly rise” as Maryland increases its testing capacity.

Nursing home staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be immediately discharged into isolation, Hogan said.

He added that all faculties are required to develop staffing plans to ensure residents continue to receive care during a potential outbreak.

Over the past two months, Hogan has instituted multiple measures intended to limit the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes and other senior living facilities, such as issuing stricter guidelines for visitors and requiring staff to use personal protective equipment.

But he said state officials are “increasingly concerned and quite frankly outraged” that some facilities are not heeding state orders.

In response, Hogan has appointed Col. Eric Allely, the state surgeon of the Maryland National Guard, to direct a multi-agency team to ensure that all facilities comply with state laws.

“We have been and will continue to take aggressive actions to address the spread of COVID-19 in Maryland nursing homes,” Hogan said. “Targeting and containing these outbreaks and clusters is critically important to our state’s recovery efforts.”

The governor also announced the formation of “bridge teams,” which will supplement the state’s previously created “strike teams” in treating residents of senior living facilities.

Each bridge team will comprise a registered nurse and five to seven aides who will provide “emergency clinical staffing” to nursing homes in crisis and be equipped to care for up to 100 residents per shift.

Under Hogan’s executive order, nursing home facilities will also be required to regularly update residents, staff and residents’ families regarding COVID-19 infections.

“It is heart-wrenching enough that families can’t visit their loved ones. But it’s even worse when they can’t get information about what is happening inside these facilities,” Hogan said.

Hogan also announced the state will open a testing site at the Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in Salisbury after at least 262 poultry workers in Maryland have tested positive for COVID-19.

“These outbreaks are not only a serious public health concern, but they’re also a potential threat to Maryland’s leading agricultural industry and to our nation’s essential food supply chain,” he said.

Chas Eby, deputy executive director at Maryland’s Emergency Management Agency, will lead the state’s response to COVID-19 among workers in the poultry industry, Hogan said.

He added that a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide additional assistance, and the state has been granted a designated liaison from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expedite other resources from the federal government.

“Our priority is to make sure we keep these workers safe and we keep those plants open so we can keep people fed,” Hogan said.

As Maryland looks ahead to when it might be able to begin easing restrictions on businesses and gatherings, Hogan said he and other state officials are focusing on two main measurements: the rate at which people are being hospitalized for COVID-19 and the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units.

The Trump administration’s guidelines for “reopening” the nation recommends states wait for at least a 14-day decline in metrics such as the percentage of positive cases in relation to total tests conducted.

But Hogan said his recovery plan merely looks for a 14-day plateau of hospitalizations and ICU admissions. He added that the state won’t “restart the clock” if those metrics increase and decrease again.

“If we don’t continue to see a spike up, we’re going to be in a good position to continue to make progress… We have some slight upticks for a day or two, but it’s not shooting up and we’re still hopeful that we can level off and we can still move forward,” he said.

Marcus Dieterle

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