Screening nursing home staff could help detect asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, APH says

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New data from Austin Public Health shows low COVID-19 positivity rates among staff and residents in nursing homes without a known outbreak or cluster. The department said this may indicate that screening staff at nursing homes can help detect asymptomatic infections and thus limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in these facilities.

In data released Thursday, testing in the 27 Travis County nursing homes that haven’t had outbreaks showed three new COVID-19 cases among residents for a positivity rate of 0.16%. Among nursing home employees at those same facilities, there were nine new cases for a positivity rate of 0.31%, the city says. Those rates from nursing homes with no known transmission are both significantly lower than the rate of people testing positive at Austin Public Health’s drive up test site (which is open to anyone who qualifies through the screening as being at risk for COVID-19): 6.28% positivity rate.

For comparison, out of the six nursing homes with outbreaks, the nursing home with the highest positivity rates had 46% of residents and 19.6% of staff testing positive, for a collective positivity rate of more than 38%. Another nursing home with an outbreak had 17% of residents and 5.4% of staff testing positive, for a total positivity rate of 11.5%. Yet another nursing home with an outbreak had 19.4% of its residents and 3% of staff testing positive for a total positivity rate of 11.3%.

Austin Public Health and its partners tested 33 facilities and performed more than 5,600 tests after Gov. Greg Abbott mandated all nursing homes test residents and staff May 11. Nursing homes had until the end of May to comply.

Austin Public Health says that 33 nursing homes or long term care facilities in Austin Travis County have tested all their staff and residents for COVID-19. Of those, 27 facilities have no known ongoing transmission of the virus, and six have ongoing transmission of the virus. Data courtesy Austin Public Health. Graphic courtesy KXAN Andy Davis.

As of Tuesday, 5,641 people — 3,476 employees and 2,165 residents — have been tested.

The city says the testing showed the screening of employees could help detect asymptomatic COVID-19 infections. The results showed, the city says, that of the employees who tested positive, many are in positions that do not involve direct patient care such as working at the front desk, medical records, or housekeeping.

The Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, Austin Fire Department and the Emergency Medical Task Force assisted APH with carrying out this testing.

Six of the facilities tested used their own contracted labs, eight conducted testing on their own but used kits supplied by APH and 19 did the testing using APH kits and APH personnel administering the tests, the city says.

In March, APH Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott issued a Health Authority Control Order, which was then enhanced as strike teams were sent out in April. This order required actions at these facilities such as temperature checks for all employees, patients, visitors, and volunteers prior to entering the facilities.

The city says those local control orders will remain in effect until the public health disaster declaration expires.

Here’s testing data from the 27 nursing homes in Travis County without ongoing COVID-19 transmission (outbreaks). It shows that 180 tests are still pending, and those are represented in the “missing” columns for both residents and employees.

Testing data from the 27 Travis County nursing homes with no known outbreaks

Of the six nursing homes with known outbreaks in Travis County, data from four was compiled by APH and made available to the city. The other two had testing done by a private company.

Data from nursing homes with known COVID-19 outbreaks.

Nursing home residents who test positive and do not need to be hospitalized or have already been discharged from the hospital can stay at the Austin Public Health isolation facility for nursing homes, which is designed to further curb the spread of COVID-19.

KXAN has been tracking and compiling COVID-19 statistics from nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the State of Texas since the beginning of the pandemic.

In nursing homes statewide as of Thursday, there have been 5,919 COVID-19 cases at 627 sites with 883 deaths and 2,959 recoveries. There have been COVID-19 cases at more than half of nursing homes statewide.

In assisted living facilities, there have been 697 cases at 220 sites, 11% of statewide facilities. 133 have died and 295 have recovered.

We have a map of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in those facilities on our website.

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