All of Pennsylvania's skilled nursing facilities — including those in Butler County— finished complying with Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine's universal testing orders.
“This was an essential step to ensure that we further protect residents and staff within these vulnerable communities,” Levine said.
The announcement was a major part of Levine's live briefing Tuesday regarding the status of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Tuesday's report by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, to date, there have been 13 facilities in Butler County that had COVID-19 cases. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 21 cases in residents of long-term care facilities and 15 cases in employees. Two residents of these facilities have died due to COVID-19 complications.
On June 8, Levine ordered the testing of every staff member and resident in more than 1,900 skilled nursing facilities to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and offer a baseline for future decisions, including when visitation may be allowed.
Levine said Tuesday the testing becomes more important as the state tries to combat a recent resurgence with COVID-19 while also trying to remain open and active.
According to Tuesday's report, Butler County added 16 new confirmed cases to its total. The county has had a total of 530 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic began.
The county's death toll remained at 14.
Despite the pandemic's resurgence, many families continue to struggle with the continued lack of visitation with their loved ones.
Levine said universal testing is only the first step in the process for visitors to be allowed back into these facilities. She said facilities with positive results or with flare-ups of cases will likely have to restart the testing process.
“Of course we want visitors to be able to see their loved ones and their loved ones in the facility to see their families. That's critically important,” Levine said. “It's a balance.”
Levine also said this will not likely be the only time these facilities will have to test all of its staff and residents, but in the future the procedure and time frame will be adapted on an individual basis.
Paul McGuire, chief operating officer for Quality Life Services, said the mental and physical health of some of their residents decline due to the lack of contact with their families.
“The emotional detachment, being unable to see your loved ones,” he said. “It's difficult.”
McGuire said he was skeptical at first with universal testing, questioning its feasibility, but he was surprised by how smoothly the process went. He said the chance of seeing visitors was the biggest motivator for compliance.
“We're doing everything we possibly can to safely reopen to visitation because I believe it's extremely important,” he said.
Frank Skrip, a spokesman for Concordia Lutheran Ministries, said the process of having the tests done went smoothly for their facilities too, one of which is Concordia at Cabot in Cabot.
Concordia Lutheran Services contracted with a national company as recommended by the state.
“(For Concordia at Cabot), they showed up in one day and tested approximately 409 staff members,” Skrip said. “It was a pretty efficient operation from that perspective.”
But the national issue of backlogged laboratories has affected these universal tests too. Levine acknowledged the backlog's impact in a news conference last week.
The tests at Concordia at Cabot were done July 17. Skrip said Concordia has also experienced false-positive scares in the past with a staff member or resident testing positive once but then every subsequent test appearing negative.
“Today on July 28, we still do not have all 409 results,” Skrip said. “When you get the results 12 days later with a somewhat high false-positive rate, it tarnished the process a little bit.”
Concordia Lutheran Ministries has locations all over the country, including in Ohio and Florida, where Skrip said the health departments were much further involved in universal testing.
“Between the accuracy and time frame, we think there's room for improvement,” he said.