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Fast COVID-19 testing could be 'game-changer' to halt nursing home outbreaks

Fast COVID-19 testing could be 'game-changer' to halt nursing home outbreaks

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The same testing technology that is helping the Nebraska Cornhuskers and other Big Ten schools return to football can now also prevent deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes.

Under a new nationwide federal initiative, 188 of Nebraska’s nursing homes are receiving point-of-care antigen testing machines that will allow them to test their staff members more frequently, and then get immediate results.

Nursing home regulators and infectious disease experts say the new technology could be a game-changer when it comes to preventing or containing outbreaks.

“Your result is immediate,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Nebraska’s chief medical officer. “If the result comes back positive, you can do immediate contact tracing with that individual.”

During much of the pandemic, testing of nursing home caregivers has been spotty, much of it tied to outbreaks that have already occurred. And there has usually been a days-long wait to get results back.

Wait for coronavirus test results in Nebraska varies by lab, can be up to four days

With the new technology, homes will now be required to regularly test their staff, with the frequency based on the current spread of COVID-19 within their community.

In counties where the percentage of all coronavirus tests coming back positive is above 10%, homes must test staff twice a week. If the community positivity rate is between 5% and 10%, testing is required once a week. And it’s once a month in communities with positive test rates of under 5%.

State officials say as of last week, 135 Nebraska homes had received the devices and test kits.

Jeff Fritzen, executive director of Gold Crest Retirement Center in Adams, said he hopes employees won’t grow weary of the increased testing. Nursing homes will also ultimately bear the expense for new test kits, which can cost thousands of dollars monthly.

But he welcomed any new weapon that can help stop the virus that has already proven very adept at getting into nursing homes.

“Sometimes you do everything right, and it still sneaks its way in,” he said. “That’s part of COVID. COVID wins.”Photos: Our best staff photos of September 2020

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Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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