On June 8, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) ordered Pennsylvania nursing homes to conduct universal baseline COVID-19 testing of all residents and staff by July 24, 2020. Subsequently, a similar order was issued requiring baseline COVID-19 testing of residents and staff of personal care homes, assisted living residences, and intermediate care facilities by August 31, 2020. The results of the baseline testing are not yet available, but, as of July 26, nursing facility and personal care home residents accounted for 18 percent (19,314) of all COVID-19 cases and 68 percent (4,851) of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania since the start of the pandemic.
The state’s baseline testing orders will provide snapshots of the COVID-19 infection rate at facilities at the time of testing. DOH has issued non-mandatory guidance on how facilities should respond to positive tests. Nursing facilities that have had significant COVID-19 infections that wish to have lifted COVID-19 restrictions related to visitors, meals and activities, must meet certain requirements including capacity to test staff and residents if their facilities experience additional infections. However, the guidance and requirements are not applicable to all long-term care facilities and do not require ongoing testing, which is critical for early detection and containment of new COVID-19 infections among residents or staff. Many questions remain as to how the state intends to monitor and control the COVID-19 crisis in long term care facilities where the pandemic has been devastating.