Here’s how rapid testing is going at Ohio nursing homes

Rapid testing is now in use at many Ohio nursing homes, though experiences have been mixed and the tool alone is not enough to shore up against the flood of new community-spread COVID-19 cases.

The so-called “rapid” antigen tests have been seen as one way to slow the spread in nursing homes — hot spots with high risk patients since the pandemic started. Getting results in minutes allows for quicker action in quarantining before an infection spreads.

Nursing homes have to test more frequently based on how high of a percent of a county’s tests are coming back positive. With spread currently high, most Ohio nursing homes must test twice a week.

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Some nursing homes have opted into a state program where they get testing covered by the state. Others prefer the control of sending them to labs on their own.

Nursing homes began to receive federal distributions of millions of rapid antigen tests in the summer. While the standard PCR tests need sent to a lab, rapid tests can get results quickly when time is of the essence. They, however, are not as sensitive or accurate.

But as of Oct. 25, 38% of the nation’s roughly 15,000 nursing homes have yet to use a point-of-care test, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of nursing home records.

Rapid testing can be helpful but it’s not the panacea it’s sometimes been held up to be, according to Pete Van Runkle, CEO of the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.

“It’s the same thing we’re going through now with the vaccines coming out ... Everyone’s like ‘this is the savior,’ and usually there’s more to the story and that’s the case with these rapid tests,” Van Runkle said. “They’re great as far as they are rapid and it’s really helpful to get results back in 15 minutes. But there are downsides, too, and so providers have to look at the pros and cons and make their own decision about whether they want to use them or not.”

Otterbein SeniorLife has completed 55,000 tests across 20 locations throughout Ohio and Indiana since the pandemic started. Gary Horning, vice president of marketing, said they were lucky to find a private lab, Industry Labs located in West Chester, to provide this massive testing with reliable turnaround times – typically 24-48 hours after receipt of the test specimen.

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Most testing has been through the PCR method, with nasal swabs sent to a lab.

“Nonetheless, until we reach a vaccine solution, our goal is to have testing that will provide on-site and immediate results. We believe both the federal and state health officials understand this,” Horning said in a statement.

To help, he said they have received three rapid testing kits.

After a study with Ohio Department of Health, Otterbein found the Abbott BinaxNow Cards are very reliable, which are now their preferred rapid test method. They have joined the state testing program to use Abbott BinaxNow Cards and PCR tests on alternating weeks. He said they expect to continue complementing the cards with PCR tests for the foreseeable future.

Patricia Bowlin, director of nursing at Astoria Health & Rehab, in Germantown, said they’ve been using rapid tests in alteration with the PCR tests, and have found the tests they’ve been sent to be helpful.

“I’m very grateful,” Bowlin said.

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