Fewer than 10 percent of nursing homes across the country are able to get COVID-19 test results to residents within 24 hours, according to a new study that suggests testing procedures are taking too long to guard against virus outbreaks in long-term care.
The report, published Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that tests took longer, on average, in for-profit facilities and at nursing homes with larger shares of nonwhite residents. Its findings are likely to fuel calls for a more comprehensive nursing home testing strategy.
"It's unconscionable how bad [nursing home testing] has been,” says Michael Mina, M.D., an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health who was not affiliated with the study. “One of the best things we could possibly do is frequent testing in all nursing homes."
Long-term care facilities account for roughly 40 percent of all U.S. coronavirus deaths — representing some 87,000 victims — and winter is expected to bring much more disease and death. The study drew from federal nursing home data and showed just 9.5 percent of nursing homes reported getting COVID-19 test results to residents within 24 hours as of Sept. 27. Roughly 13.5 percent of nursing homes said they could get one-day test results for staff.
That's an improvement from earlier in the month, when just 6.2 percent of staff tests and 4.8 percent of resident tests were turned around within 24 hours. But it's a far cry from the rapid testing that experts say is needed to stem coronavirus infections in nursing homes. More than a third of nursing homes said residents had to wait at least three days for results, according to the study.
"Although testing delays improved over time, the state of testing is far behind the less than 24-hour turnaround that epidemiological modeling suggests is essential to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks” in long-term care, the study said.