All Ohio assisted living facilities to get baseline saliva tests

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday afternoon that a statewide testing initiative for Ohio’s more than 765 assisted living facilities, which will mean baseline saliva testing of all staff and residents at no cost to the facilities.

This point-in-time testing initiative was praised by an industry group, but it also said a more strategic, long-term testing program is still the ultimate goal.

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Saliva tests can be self-performed or performed with assistance, under the observance of licensed medical staff. Baseline saliva tests are not “rapid tests” and need to be analyzed at a laboratory, but provide reliable results in about 48 hours upon the lab’s receipt.

“Our focus has been and remains on protecting Ohioans while navigating this pandemic. To achieve this, we must have 100% participation of all assisted living facilities across Ohio. Therefore, an order will be issued soon requiring all facilities to participate,” DeWine said.

A baseline test in assisted living is critical to begin to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in these congregate settings, which serve an extremely vulnerable population, said Patrick Schwartz, spokesman for LeadingAge Ohio, which represents nonprofit long-term care providers such as nursing homes and assisted living centers.

“It is important to remember that this test is simply a snapshot in time; a more strategic, long-term testing program is still the ultimate goal,” Schwartz said.

Older adults who live in senior living communities have been over represented among the hospitalized and the dead during the pandemic. There have been 2,195 long-term care residents in Ohio who died since April 15 from the coronavirus, the earliest date when long-term care deaths from COVID-19 were recorded.

The virus can enter the facilities undetected through workers who don’t feel sick, can spread quickly through people living in close quarters, and can create serious complications for older people with multiple underlying medical conditions.

Nursing home and assisted living facilities have been clamoring for more federal funds for personal protective equipment, sufficient testing supplies and rapid result tests, and other additional costs incurred trying to keep residents and staff safe.

Schwartz said the current state effort to test Ohio nursing homes every two weeks has had some delays based on lab capacity and the first round took about four weeks.