Nursing homes in states with a 5% or greater positivity for Covid-19 will be required to test all nursing home staff each week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Wednesday.
The testing requirement - and $5 billion in new funding from the CARES Act provider relief fund - builds on an earlier HHS announcement that rapid Covid-19 antigen testing devices will be distributed to nursing homes in the coming weeks.
“As caseloads continue to increase in areas around the country, it has never been more important that nursing homes have what they need to maintain a sturdy defense against the virus,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.
More than 15,000 testing devices will be deployed over the next few months to help support this mandate, with over 600 devices shipping this week.
Verma said the agency’s stepped up inspections and requirement that nursing homes provide infection data to CDC “are helping to inform new and aggressive policies,” like increased penalties for infection control deficiencies. “Because months into a deadly pandemic there’s simply no excuse for failing to follow basic protocols such as hand washing and masking,” Verma said.
The CMS had previously recommended that nursing homes test their staff once a week, but Verma said “the time is right to make our recommendation mandatory.”
The CMS is also allocating $5 billion from the CARES Act provider relief fund, for nursing homes to use for supplemental staffing, testing, and technology to facilitate virtual visits with residents.
The agency will also provide governors each week with a list of nursing homes that are seeing increased Covid-cases, so states can intervene quickly with inspections or other assistance before outbreaks become large.
The CMS is also providing a national training curriculum on infection control that nursing homes must undergo in order to access the $5 billion in CARES Act funding.
As of July 13, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in 42 states reported 56,143 Covid-19 deaths, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s 44% of all Covid-19 deaths in those states.