Doctor taking a nasal swab test

About one third of all deaths from COVID-19 in Oregon are from the residents and staff of nursing homes. And Oregon does not have a specific plan for ramped up testing.

Shouldn’t it?

Testing residents and staff at nursing homes or other long-term care facilities would be a substantial project. It could be 57,000 tests, not including retesting staff, Willamette Week reported. The state has the capacity to perform about 38,000 tests a week, according to The Oregonian.

The worry is, of course, COVID-19 is more lethal to older patients. People can have the virus and spread it without showing symptoms. Space between people is much more difficult for nursing homes.

The state is working on a testing plan. It has also done other things. It implemented visitation restrictions. It required an in-person review of the pandemic plans for each facility. It established protocols for what happens when an infection occurs. The state released lists of nursing homes where an infection occurred. And a Portland nursing home where more than 25 people died from COVID-19 was shut down, at least temporarily by the state.

Will it be enough? Are there things local communities could do?

Deschutes County Health Services does have a long-established relationship with the 33 long-term health care facilities in the county. A public health nurse devotes part of her time to training staff at the facilities to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. That takes on a whole new level of importance during the pandemic. The county says if an outbreak occurs at a nursing home it can coordinate additional resources to help. Symptomatic staff and residents would, of course, be tested.

There is also a local community outpatient testing committee led by Dr. Richard Freeman, who is the president of St. Charles Medical Group. That committee will be the governing body for homeless and nursing facility testing criteria, following guidelines from the state.

The lack of testing equipment meant, at first, testing had to be prioritized. Those restrictions have gradually been loosened. As of May 4, testing in this region was at a rate of 34 per 10,000 population. That’s above the rate the state aimed for in its guidelines for reopening. It’s likely not enough, yet, to know where the virus is and help stop it before it spreads through another nursing home.

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