Gov. Greg Abbott orders COVID-19 testing for all nursing home residents, staff

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Governor Greg Abbott has ordered the state to test all residents and staff in Texas nursing homes.

According to a release from the Governor’s office, he directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to “test 100% of residents and staff.”

KXAN asked if the testing would be done in all long-term care facilities, like assisted living homes and state supported living centers. The spokesperson said they are working to confirm more details.

A timeline for this testing has also not been announced.

According to the release, the state should “develop and implement a plan based on the guidance of Vice President Mike Pence and Doctor Deborah Birx.”

Dr. Birx is the White House’s coronavirus task force response coordinator.

The move comes just hours after the Vice President Mike Pence recommended similar action over the next two weeks at nursing homes nationwide, on a video conference call to governors earlier.

In an interview Monday evening, Governor Abbott explained that the White House recommendation, along with some new testing capabilities, allowed this testing directive to be possible.

“Our goal is to reduce the spread of the coronavirus while also reduce the death rate. The way to do that is to surge testing in all senior living facilities and nursing homes across the entire state of Texas,” Gov. Abbott said. “Combined with that is additional testing capabilities that are being provided to Texas today, by the federal government, so that we will be able to complete this exercise of testing all senior living facilities over the coming weeks.”

A spokesperson for Texas HHSC said, “Our top priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of the people we serve, including residents and staff in licensed nursing facilities we regulate. We are working closely with DSHS and TDEM to develop and carry out this plan, which builds upon efforts to expand COVID-19 testing in Texas, especially for our most vulnerable Texans.”

They went on to say, “According to industry estimates there are approximately 150,000 staff and more than 80,000 residents at nursing facilities throughout Texas.”

HHSC said more information about the plan to test these more than 230,000 Texans will be available “once details are finalized.”

Abhi Rahman, spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party, reached out to KXAN, expressing frustration about the timing of this announcement.

“It’s too little too late from Governor Abbott. Testing nursing homes should have happened weeks ago,” Rahman said. “Governor Abbott continues to mismanage the coronavirus crisis and then ask for a trophy when he does the job that every other governor in the country is doing. Texans see right through this. We deserve competent leadership that Abbott has yet to provide.”

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