Maryland mandates 'universal testing' for all nursing home residents, staff

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday the state would implement “universal testing” for all nursing home residents and staff whether or not they show symptoms for the coronavirus.

Hogan, a Republican, issued the executive order to target the “most acute outbreaks, clusters and hot spots of coronavirus,” he said in his daily COVID-19 press briefing.

The governor tasked Col. Eric Alaly, the state surgeon of the Maryland National Guard, to enforce all safety rules at long-term care facilities across the state.

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference at the Maryland State House on Friday, April 17, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference at the Maryland State House on Friday, April 17, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

“We have been and will continue to take aggressive actions to address the spread of COVID-19 in Maryland nursing homes,” Hogan said at the press conference, according to WTOP. “Targeting and containing these outbreaks and clusters is critically important to our state’s recovery efforts.”

For the first time Monday, the Maryland Department of Health released data on COVID-19 outbreak at nursing homes across the state. “Clusters of cases” were recorded at 278 facilities.

At least 4,011 confirmed cases – about 19 percent of the total infections in the state – were linked to nursing homes or long-term care facilities. At least 471 coronavirus-related deaths – about 48 percent of all fatalities in the state – were also tied to nursing homes.

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“With our expanded universal testing, we should expect to see the number of positive cases significantly rise among both nursing home residents and staff,” Hogan said.

Under the executive order, “each resident is evaluated at least daily by a physician, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or registered nurse for symptoms suggesting possible COVID-19 infection.”

Each facility is also required to “develop a surge staffing plan to ensure continuity of resident care in the event of a significant outbreak of COVID-19 among residents or staff.”

It is mandatory for facilities to comply with “strike teams” deployed by the state department of health to respond to case clusters. These teams, consisting of members of the National Guard, health officials, doctors and nurses, were first created in early April and have since then “successfully responded to serious outbreaks and growing threats” in 84 facilities, Hogan said.

A Maryland State Trooper guards the driveway to the Pleasant View Nursing Home, in Mount Airy, Md., Sunday, March 29, 2020, by a sign that says "no trespassing" that was put up by the Carroll County Health Department. Maryland's governor said Saturday night that the nursing home had been struck by an outbreak of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A Maryland State Trooper guards the driveway to the Pleasant View Nursing Home, in Mount Airy, Md., Sunday, March 29, 2020, by a sign that says "no trespassing" that was put up by the Carroll County Health Department. Maryland's governor said Saturday night that the nursing home had been struck by an outbreak of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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The governor explained the state will also send “bridge teams” – a team of one registered nurse and between five and seven aides equipped to care for up to 100 residents a shift – to satisfy emergency nurse staffing needs at facilities in crisis.

Maryland, as of Thursday, recorded at least 20,849 confirmed coronavirus cases, with at least 985 deaths, according to the state health department. At least 1,610 people remained hospitalized in the state Thursday with severe cases of COVID-19.