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Delaware seeks to protect long-term care facilities with universal testing

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

Delaware announced its testing plan for long-term care facilities earlier this week, and is now is preparing to test every resident and staff member at all of those facilities statewide.

As of Friday, nearly two-thirds of the state’s COVID-19-related deaths occurred at these facilities, along with 450 of the more than 6,000 known cases of the virus so far statewide.  

The state has released the names of 18 facilities with multiple virus-related deaths. Genesis Healthcare’s Milford Center tops the list, with 30 fatalities as of Friday. 

The state plans to distribute 25,000 tests to facilities for the first round of testing, says Delaware Division of Public Health Chief Physician Rick Pescatore. 

Staff will receive nasal swab polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Residents will get rapid antibody blood tests which can deliver results at the bedside, followed by the more sensitive PCR tests for those who initially test negative.

Pescatore says facility staff have been trained to administer the tests.

Cheryl Heiks, executive director of the Delaware Healthcare Facilities Association, supports the universal testing plan. 

“This is something that our industry has been requesting for some time,” she said. “Because one of the things that is required to get ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak is to know where asymptomatic individuals are, whether they’re residents or staff.”

But Heiks worries implementing the plan “100 percent” could be “problematic.”

“[To] some of the individuals, particularly those in a dementia unit, this is not an easy thing to explain,” she said. “Or when you do large groups of people at one time, there’s sometimes some difficulty in implementation. If you have asymptomatic staff and … then they end up testing positive, and you have to keep them out of work for a long period of time, it’s difficult to find staff to replace them. So we may need to do that in waves.”

Heiks says staffing challenges are worst in Sussex County. 

Pescatore says the Division of Public Health is aware of these staffing challenges, and has supplemented staff with members of the Delaware Medical Reserve Corps, the Delaware National Guard as well as a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) deployed in Delaware through the end of May. 

“Creative, but effective staffing solutions have been sought from every corner,” said Pescatore. 

The DMAT’s focus is technical assistance around use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

It will address facilities that have been identified as having a high number of cases, according to a spokesperson working for the Division of Public Health. It will also provide technical assistance to facilities that have not had any confirmed cases of the virus to prepare them for a first potentially being identified.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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