Maryland’s health department said it’s reviewing the new federal guidance and will “ensure the state’s policies are in line with the new guidance,” a spokesperson said. The state should have more information “in the coming weeks.”
“It does make it really confusing,” said DeMattos, who expressed concern with the varying amount of time it can take to get results back from commercial labs.
New Hampshire health officials continue to recommend that antigen tests only be used for testing people with symptoms. Instead, the state has a system in place that pays for lab-based tests for nursing home staff every 7 to 10 days with a quick turn-around time.
“This may change, but this is where we are today,” said Elizabeth Talbot, a state epidemiologist said on a webinar with state and nursing home officials last week, shortly after the Trump administration updated industry guidance.
The Trump administration is promising more help. Some of the 150 million $5, 15-minute rapid tests the U.S. recently bought from Abbott Laboratories will be sent to nursing homes under more rigorous testing requirements, according to Heck, but the administration hasn’t yet specified how many or when those shipments would begin. These particular tests don’t require additional machinery and are about the size of a credit card.
Meanwhile, nursing homes have had problems refilling orders for rapid tests. The Trump administration last month invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure rapid test manufacturers Becton Dickinson and Quidel prioritize filling the federal government’s order for nursing homes over other customers. BD, which is providing most of the tests, said the government’s order has left them temporarily unable to refill orders for nursing homes and other clients.
As a result, “we cannot currently provide any tests to our distributors to ‘restock’ the nursing homes that already received their government allocation,” a company spokesperson said. BD expects to be able to begin to restock orders within a few weeks.
Quidel’s president and CEO Doug Bryant said its distributors have enough tests to re-supply nursing homes who order more tests.
Heck, the HHS spokesperson, acknowledged that some nursing homes may see delays in receiving more testing supplies, but “we believe this will be rare.” She noted that nursing homes will have priority over other purchasers.
The federal government has been sending between 150 and over 900 point-of-care tests to nursing homes depending on their size, but it’s up to the facilities to procure additional tests.
The head of Lutheran Life Villages, which operates three nursing homes in Indiana, said his first question upon receiving tests from the federal government this week was how to obtain more.
Company president and CEO Alex Kiefer said he’s contacted suppliers and industry groups. But so far, “the best we have right now is the supplies may be available sometime around the end of September, maybe into October,” he said.
One of the company’s homes, an 84-bed facility, received 210 tests from the federal government, just barely enough to test its 180 staff and essential caregivers once. Under Trump’s new testing guidelines, the facility in Allen County, where the testing positivity rate is 7.5 percent, is expected to test those workers once per week.
Kiefer, as well as others in the industry, expressed concern that there still isn’t clear guidance on how facilities are supposed to report their negative test results. He said the labs have been reporting the facility’s Covid-19 test results, and now with the antigen tests, that will be up to the homes.
Some nursing home officials said testing conditions are starting to improve after months of pleas from the industry. And ultimately, some prefer the federal government pushes for more testing now than wait months to finalize the nuances.
While it’s caused confusion, the federal effort to provide facilities with testing equipment is a “move in the right direction,” said one nursing home industry source, who requested anonymity to offer a candid assessment.
David Lim contributed to this report.