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

Maricopa County's care homes account for 70% of Arizona's COVID-19 deaths. A doctor who has organized testing says a small army's needed to test them all.

PHOENIX —

The White House is making a major push for states to test all residents of long-term care facilities and their staffs - and get it done in the next two weeks. 

Vice President Mike Pence and pandemic adviser Dr. Deborah Birx broke the news to Gov. Doug Ducey and other governors on tele-conference calls Monday.

It appears to be a prelude to a possible end to the lockdown on the facilities being contemplated by the Trump administration, which was reported Sunday by the Wall Street Journal.

RELATED: Trump says expansion of testing to target vulnerable communities

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

In Maricopa County, the toll is staggering:

- 135 of roughly 500 facilities have reported at least one COVID-19 case.

- 170 residents and two staff members have died.

- Overall, long-term care homes account for 7 of every 10 coronavirus deaths in the county.

For almost three months, the governor and public health officials have failed to mount an organized testing campaign in long-term care facilities, home to the state's most vulnerable residents. 

Maricopa County public health officials did draw attention to the crisis with data dashboards dedicated to long-term care facilities.

In April, the crisis mushroomed, as care homes reported cases and deaths in the double digits. Care homes have been under lockdown for more than a month, with families unable to enter.

On May 4, Ducey announced the state would test care home residents starting this week, but he provided no details.

That announcement came as media organizations were suing the state for refusing to release the names of care homes that have reported illnesses or deaths related to COVID-19.

RELATED: 12 News, other Arizona media file suit for records of nursing homes with coronavirus outbreaks

On Monday, Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak told 12 News in a text message: “We are actively working toward an effort to test all residents and staff. More details to come.”

“The truth is, there is no way to be totally ready for what happens next,” said Dr. Tyler Southwell, a leader of ProtectAZ.org, a nonprofit that’s done or delivered coronavirus testing where it’s needed most: Care homes, homeless shelters and the Navajo Nation.  

Southwell said executing a statewide testing program would have to go far beyond just showing up and testing people and would require a small army to accomplish.

“These facilities … weren’t created to deal with a catastrophe like this and they need support,” he said.

For families looking for hope that they can soon visit loved ones in reopened care homes might find those hopes dashed, Southwell said.

“The hope we can take is that we’re going to be doing everything we can to protect them, and I feel like that is worth a ton,” he said.

RELATED ARTICLES: 

- 7 residents die at Glendale assisted living facility

- Trump says expansion of testing to target vulnerable communities

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

- 12 News, other Arizona media file suit for records of nursing homes with coronavirus outbreaks

- 22 COVID cases reported at Chandler nursing home reflect nationwide surge

- Long-term care COVID-19 cases, deaths continue to increase as state does not release names of facilities

- 'I feel very unsafe', workers at nursing facilities concerned over health and safety of staff and patients amid COVID-19

Chandler nursing home confirms 4 people dead, dozens of residents, staff have COVID-19

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