CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - State health officials announced on Wednesday that they will test residents and staff members at every nursing home in South Carolina for COVID-19.
Officials with the Department of Health and Environmental Control said beginning next week they will begin a phased testing approach to include approximately 40,000 residents and staff members at the 194 nursing homes in the state.
Health officials say the first phase will begin May 11 with approximately 15,000 residents and staff at 74 facilities.
“While these facilities were identified based on risk, the majority of them volunteered to be tested in phase one,” DHEC officials said. “The statewide testing of the 194 facilities is anticipated to be complete by the end of May.”
According to state health officials, the extensive testing plan is part of DHEC’s ongoing efforts to increase COVID-19 testing in the state, especially for those at higher risk for developing severe complications from the virus, like nursing home residents and the staff members who care for them.
“Many of us have family, friends and loved ones in these types of care facilities,” said DHEC Director Rick Toomey. “Across the country, COVID-19 has drastically impacted the residents and workers at nursing homes, and we want South Carolinians to know that DHEC is doing everything we can to stop the spread of COVID-19, especially for the vulnerable populations who reside at these care facilities.”
Toomey said testing nursing homes was the first part of a plan to expand testing. According to Toomey, the second part will consist of reaching more people across the state which involves the South Carolina Hospital Association.
DHEC officials said COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities are an indicator of ongoing transmission of virus within a community and require an intense focus on infection prevention practices.
According to state health officials, the facilities have been notified of the testing plan, and DHEC staff are working with facilities to answer any questions or concerns ahead of the testing roll out.
“Asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 from staff to residents and between residents is a concern in nursing homes,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC Director of Public Health. “Universal testing in these facilities will allow us to better identify residents with asymptomatic infection in order to cohort infected patients and further reduce the spread of COVID-19 from patients with no signs of illness.”
DHEC released the following additional information:
In addition to providing universal testing, several measures have been implemented statewide to protect residents and staff at nursing homes. DHEC’s disease investigation staff work closely with facilities to prevent additional cases by investigating when a COVID-19 case is reported involving a staff member or resident. This includes that all nursing homes are required to report COVID-19 infections to DHEC. A typical response includes:
- Frontline epidemiologists contact the facility to collect preliminary information about residents and staff.
- Frontline staff connect the facilities with DHEC Infection Preventionists who provide facility-specific consultations.
- Guidance is provided about how to assess possible exposures, restriction of activities, isolation and quarantine measures, appropriate use of personal protective equipment and disease monitoring in staff and residents to rapidly detect additional cases.
On March 13, Gov. Henry McMaster issued an Executive Order that stopped public visitation to nursing homes in order to help protect the vulnerable population of residents, staff and visitors. This order is still in effect today.