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Shouldn’t nursing homes be required to screen their employees for COVID-19 on a regular basis? | READER COMMENTARY

President Donald Trump inspects an Abbott Laboratories rapid testing kit during a daily coronavirus briefing at the White House in Washington, March 30, 2020. The lack of coronavirus test supplies, and long waits for results, has caused serious problems for many hospitals and nursing homes, even as new and faster tests come onto the market.
President Donald Trump inspects an Abbott Laboratories rapid testing kit during a daily coronavirus briefing at the White House in Washington, March 30, 2020. The lack of coronavirus test supplies, and long waits for results, has caused serious problems for many hospitals and nursing homes, even as new and faster tests come onto the market.(Al Drago/The New York Times)

There was a glaring omission in the lengthy and informative article about how a lack of diagnostic testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus contributed to the tragic deaths at the Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy (“‘It went like wildfire’: How national testing shortage helped lead to Maryland’s deadliest coronavirus cluster,” April 4). Not one public health official or other expert was quoted as answering the following question: Should nursing homes be performing periodic, even daily, surveillance testing on workers whether or not the workers are displaying any symptoms?

That question must be answered without regard to whether sufficient test kits now exist to do such testing. We need to know what should be done, not just what can be done at present. Presumably, that is how planning is done to improve our responses to the pandemic.

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Periodic surveillance testing is not required by the nursing facility standards promulgated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those standards, however, are not “aspirational” and are based on what is practical under current conditions. Because we now know that the virus is often transmitted by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers, any infection control achieved by the current requirement to screen staff for fever and respiratory symptoms is illusory. It is like putting mosquito netting halfway around a patient’s bed during a malaria epidemic.

Testing and contact tracing after the virus has been introduced into the resident population is too late. Rapid-result COVID-19 testing finally is becoming available. Should it be deployed to nursing homes for routine staff screening to protect those most at risk from the disease?

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David A. Plymyer, Catonsville

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