Emily Allen Published

New Nursing Home Order Takes Effect Tuesday, As State Tracks 31 Related Outbreaks

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

An executive order from West Virginia’s governor will take effect Tuesday morning, adding some flexibility for nursing home visitations as the state continues monitoring more than 30 outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

West Virginians will follow the same color-coded map the state rolled out for schools on Aug. 14, to determine whether it’s safe or not for them to visit a nursing home, Gov. Jim Justice said on Monday.

His new order rescinds an Aug. 12 order, which temporarily barred people from visiting residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. 

The color-coded map is assembled based on the active COVID-19 cases per population and it’s designed to monitor the severity of community spread. The Department of Health and Human Resources has modified the map twice since its introduction almost two weeks ago.

Counties in green and yellow will allow in-person visits to long-term care facilities by appointment only, with certain restrictions on age and location, according to the DHHR’s reopening plan from Aug. 20.

Counties in orange and red will only allow visits for compassionate care. 

The color-coded system additionally creates restrictions to communal dining, group activities and rules for nonessential personnel. In all counties, staff are responsible for screening residents daily. 

“I urge everyone to contact your local nursing home and arrange for those visits during those pandemics,” DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch said Monday.  

Logan was the only red county Monday afternoon, and Monroe was the only county in orange. The state has reported active outbreaks at nursing homes in both communities, in addition to Grant, Kanawha, Mercer, Raleigh and Taylor counties. 

CEO Marty Wright for the West Virginia Health Care Association, a trade group representing most of West Virginia’s long-term care facilities, said Monday that greater community spread and longer lags in testing results are what’s driving the increase in nursing home outbreaks. 

“What we’ve seen is that asymptomatic spread has presented a challenge across the board,” Wright said. “It gets into a facility and no one knows it.”

For the Springfield Center in Monroe County, where CEO Larry Pack said Monday roughly 30 out of 50 patients have tested positive since last week, the outbreak began with one employee testing positive.

“If we have one positive employee, or one positive patient, we test every employee and every patient in the center,” said Pack, who runs 17 West Virginia nursing homes through Stonerise Healthcare. 

About 25 employees at Springfield also have tested positive since last week. Pack said all staff and patients in Monroe County will be tested weekly until everyone tests negative. 

Weekly testing is the protocol for all West Virginia nursing homes experiencing an outbreak. However, the process has become more difficult as the need for testing resources grows in schools, correctional centers and other places, according to Wright. 

Nationally, there’s a push to offer more antigen testing in long-term care facilities just because the tests are easier to process. Unfortunately, Wright said, there’s still debate as to whether antigen results are as accurate as the more common PCR testing.

“There is the concern, whether or not it has a significant enough sensitivity to allow for it to be used,” Wright said.

So far, the West Virginia Health Care Association reports two West Virginia facilities have received equipment for antigen testing. 

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.