In early 2020, the CDC realized the most vulnerable Covid-19 population was senior citizens. Despite advances in protocols, there are still two ways for seniors in nursing homes to get Covid: staff and visitors.
—Testing nursing home visitors is important. Current guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) restrict the number of visitors and focus on temperature checks and screening questionnaires, as well as observing for signs or symptoms of illness.
This may have been reasonable early on in the pandemic when any sort of a screen was better than no screen, but it’s insufficient now. We have had point-of-care testing for months now, and more recently, rapid antigen tests that require no special lab equipment and no specialized storage.
—Stronger mitigation measures for nursing home staff. It is likely that infected staff are driving the rise in cases, as visitations are relatively restricted. An AP report shows a proportionate increase in the number of staff cases and resident cases. This is naturally difficult to control because the staff live in the community and work in the nursing homes. Their job is vital.
The latest CMS guidance on staff testing frequency are intended to test often enough to detect cases early enough to stop transmissions from staff to residents. Clearly that hasn’t been enough. We need more targeted testing to detect early cases, and that has to be done every time someone leaves and reenters the nursing home. No effort should be spared in procuring what is needed to test everyone going into a nursing home, whether visitor or staff.
Key to making this work: the FDA should lift restrictions requiring all tests be reviewed at a lab, so rapid tests that don’t need lab equipment can truly live up to their promise.
We need to make sure that our members of Congress understand our determination to keep everyone healthy in those facilities, we mean business, and we need them to pay immediate attention.
On another note, prescription drug prices in the U.S. are sky high and rising. The Federal Government is beginning to work on securing lower drug prices and trying to ensure that America will no longer pay more than our peer nations for expensive prescription drugs. We must let the Administration and Congress know that this is a top-tier priority for all seniors and that they must work together to address this critical need.
Have a happy, healthy and safe holiday season and 2021!