Vice President Mike Pence wants residents and staff at every nursing home in the United States tested for the coronavirus after a remarkable number of deaths have come out of such facilities.
The U.S. has roughly 15,000 nursing homes and one million nursing home residents. On Monday, Pence said that governors should prioritize testing at those healthcare facilities to prevent even more deaths among those especially vulnerable to Covid-19.
“I want to say what we’re urging with regard to nursing home testing is … let’s just get everybody in the homes everybody on the staff, let’s get them tested,” Pence said, according to ABC News.
“We’re really asking for every governor to focus, over the next two weeks, on testing 100% of the residents and workers, then setting up routine surveillance of all of the workers,” added Dr. Deborah Birx, who is in charge of coordinating the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.
Senior care facilities have been exceptionally hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, 33 states are tracking deaths in long-term care facilities and reporting them as a percentage of total coronavirus-related deaths.
In many cases, such facilities account for more than half of total coronavirus deaths. In three states – Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire – the death toll in senior care facilities makes up at least 70% of the total coronavirus death count across the state, according to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
ABC News conducted its own survey of state data and found that the total number of reported coronavirus-related deaths from people living in nursing homes in the U.S. is about 31% of the national total. Notably, that percentage is drawn from just 35 states that report deaths in long-term care facilities. If the other 15 states are assumed to have similar a number of deaths, the percentage of U.S. coronavirus-related deaths from senior care facilities rises to roughly 40%.
“I was on a phone call last week, where four or five patients came into our hospital just in one day from nursing homes,” Dr. Sunil Parikh, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health, told The Guardian. “It’s just a staggering number day to day.”
Parikh recommends doing exactly what Pence has called for: testing everyone that works for or is living at senior care homes.
“What I would like to see is the ability to test the entire nursing homes,” Parikh said. “This symptomatic approach is just not cutting it. Many states, including Connecticut, are starting to move in that direction … but I hope it becomes a national effort.”
The industry group National Center for Assisted Living is also on board with Pence’s plan.
“We strongly agree with the vice president and Dr. Birx’s recommendation today for testing of all nursing home residents and staff and call on the federal government to help with this endeavor,” NCAL CEO Mark Parkinson told ABC News. “Without access to more testing, long term care providers are at a severe disadvantage in identifying more of these asymptomatic residents and staff who could be contagious and an endangerment to others.”
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