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Arizona taking 1st step toward mass coronavirus testing in nursing homes

Care homes are a deadly COVID hotspot. A trade group says the state has OK'd testing in skilled nursing facilities, but still no plan for 2,000 other care homes.


Arizona is taking its first step toward mass coronavirus testing in nursing homes with a plan to test residents and staff at all skilled nursing homes, 12 News has learned.

“We’ve been given the green light to get testing done,” David Voepel, executive director of the Arizona Health Care Association, a trade group for nursing facilities, said in an interview Tuesday.

“We want to start with a population that we know and get going there.”

Voepel said Sonora Quest Laboratories and his association presented their plan last month to the governor’s office and the Department of Health Services.

RELATED: White House wants nursing homes tested in 2 weeks. How will Arizona respond?

“We worked on it all through April,” he said. 

In Arizona and around the country, the coronavirus has decimated care homes and their staffs. 

Here in Maricopa County, the toll is staggering: 7 of every 10 people whose deaths were linked to the coronavirus lived in care homes.

RELATED: 7 residents die at Glendale assisted living facility

MORE: Fifth coronavirus death reported at Chandler nursing home, 73 others test positive

The news comes a day after the White House recommended states test all residents of long-term care facilities and their staffs for the coronavirus - and get it done in the next two weeks. 

Under the Arizona plan, Sonora Quest Laboratories will manage COVID-19 testing in all 150 of the skilled nursing facilities across the state. The company already has contracts for lab services with the facilities. 

Staff and residents can get the common PCR test – a nasal swab – that detects an active infection.

Antibody blood tests will also be available for detecting whether a person has been exposed to the virus. 

Voepel acknowledged that testing 150 facilities was just a first step. He said the state had about 2,500 assisted-living homes.

RELATED: Experts warn antibody tests might show false negatives and positives

Skilled-nursing facilities have the advantage of registered nurses on staff who can administer a nasal swab, Voepel said. 

Sonora Quest phlebotomists will do the blood tests.

“The issues are, where do you test first?” Voepel said. “How do you get that done in an efficient kind of way?”

The testing cost for most residents will be covered by Medicare, Voepel said.

There are still questions about how to cover costs for the staff, many of whom might not be insured. State funding could be used.

“We don’t want any of this to come back and hit the staff,” Voepel said.

But can it all get done in the recommended two weeks? “No,” Voepel said.

Three weeks is a possibility, he said. It could kick off this week. 

“We’ve been working on it for over a month,” Voepel said.

The governor’s office and Department of Health Services have not responded to requests for comment.

Gov. Doug Ducey is holding a coronavirus news conference at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

RELATED: Here is everything you need to know about coronavirus in Arizona on May 12

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