Coronavirus News: New York state to require virus testing for nursing home staffers

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ALBANY — New York nursing homes must start twice-weekly coronavirus testing for all staffers and will no longer be sent COVID-19 patients leaving hospitals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday after facing growing criticism over the handling of nursing facility outbreaks.

Of the nation’s more than 26,000 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, a fifth of them – about 5,300 – are in New York, according to a count by The Associated Press.

That’s the highest number of nursing home deaths in the country, though other states have also struggled to control the virus in nursing facilities. Indeed, they account for a higher percentage of coronavirus deaths in most other states, Cuomo said.

But New York nursing home residents’ relatives, health care watchdogs and lawmakers have said the state didn’t focus enough on the threat and then the devastating reality of COVID-19 in nursing homes.

Critics have faulted the state for taking weeks to release the number of deaths in individual homes – and still not releasing the number of cases – and for not conducting or requiring widespread testing in the facilities.

Now, workers will be tested twice a week, Cuomo said. As for residents, he said the state was getting them tested as much as possible.
The state has faced particular scrutiny for a March 25 health department directive requiring nursing homes to take recovering coronavirus patients. The policy, similar to one in neighboring New Jersey, was intended to help free up hospital beds for the sickest patients as cases surged.

Now, “we’re just not going to send a person who is positive to a nursing home after a hospital visit,” Cuomo said Sunday. He said such patients would be accommodated elsewhere, suggesting they could be directed to sites originally set up as temporary hospitals.

He also emphasized that nursing homes should transfer any person they can’t care for.

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