After a slow uptake, the state will require long-term care facilities to implement universal COVID-19 testing of staff starting next month.
State officials announced a plan to test all residents and staff at all long-term care facilities in Delaware May 5. The state is providing test kits to facilities, and asking facility staff to administer them.
This universal testing was not mandatory — and it took until just days ago for a majority of facilities to start participating.
State public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay announced Friday that facilities will be required to test all staff weekly starting June 1. They’ll have two weeks to ramp it up.
“It really is the best way to protect individuals in these facilities," said Rattay. "We’re hearing that this is something that staff would like as well. They would like to know.”
Facilities and industry representatives have cited challenges finding lab accommodations for processing tests, getting testing scripts written for staff, and planning to replace asymptomatic staff that test positive.
Rattay says once the requirement kicks in, the state will process the staff tests at its public health lab in Smyrna as supplies allow.
Cheryl Heiks, executive director of the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association, said after Rattay's announcement that mandatory testing will give facilities "an advantage," in that they'll receive additional support from state partners.
“Testing, especially for staff, is key for us as long-term healthcare providers to protect our residents— the most vulnerable population from COVID-19," Heiks said in a statement. "There are multiple types of tests available, and their results capture the presence or absence of the virus at the time the specimen was collected. No one test is 100 percent accurate, and because of incubation periods, test results do not always identify when a person is actually infected. Therefore infection control procedures including masks are still required in long term care settings."
"The public should realize that increased testing may demonstrate an increase in confirmed cases," Heiks added. "It does not necessarily mean the facility is experiencing an increase in the number of new cases of the virus.”
As of Friday, nearly two-thirds of the state’s 322 virus-related deaths were of residents in these facilities.
This story has been updated to include comment from the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association.