A health order to be issued next week will mandate the biweekly testing of every resident and staff member at the 21 skilled nursing and care facilities in San Francisco. The order comes after a COVID-19 outbreak was apparently contained at the city-owned Laguna Honda Hospital last month, and after dozens of residents turned up positive for the disease at a nursing home in the Western Addition ten days ago.
The program will require the testing of some 2,500 residents of these San Francisco facilities as well as 2,500 to 4,500 staffers. And the first round of testing will take approximately one month, according to KRON 4.
"Since this public health emergency began, protecting vulnerable populations living in skilled nursing facilities has been one of our top priorities,” said Mayor London Breed in a statement. “We responded quickly to the outbreak at Laguna Honda, and we’ve learned a lot during our ongoing response that can help the other skilled nursing facilities in the city. Complete testing of staff and residents in all of San Francisco’s skilled nursing facilities is the next step in our commitment to vulnerable populations and universal access to testing."
Around 4,000 COVID-19 cases have been found among residents at nursing homes across the state since the pandemic began, and additionally, according to state data, 2,697 nursing home workers have been infected.
City health officials tell the Chronicle that, under the new order, re-testing will occur at all 21 facilities in San Francisco every two weeks.
By doing all of this thorough and regular testing, the city health department hopes to quickly detect and contain any future outbreaks at nursing facilities.
Retired geriatrician Teresa Palmer tells the Chronicle that this move is "great," and very much what she has been telling city governments to do for the past month.
"Finally. It has to be done," Palmer says. "It’s a huge potential reservoir of infection and, of course, nursing home patients die quickly. If you wait until someone has symptoms you’ve lost precious time and you’re going to get an outbreak and more people are going to be infected."
The outbreak at Laguna Honda is serving as a model of sorts. To date, only five residents have had confirmed infections, none have died, and all are reportedly doing well and recovering. 16 staff members were also infected, but the infections — many seemingly asymptomatic — were caught early and staff was quarantined.
On Monday, the new round of testing will begin at Laguna Honda, which has approximately 750 elderly and chronically ill residents. The city is supplying the first round of testing kits, but according to the health department, many of these facilities have already begun testing on their own.
No nursing facility in the city has allowed any visitors since March 6, but infections appear to have been unknowingly brought into the facilities by staff members nonetheless.
Nursing home outbreaks elsewhere in the Bay Area have been more devastating. 41 residents and 26 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month at one facility in Hayward, and 13 of the residents have since died. (That facility is now under criminal investigation.) And as the Chronicle notes, 35 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Santa Clara County — 41 in total — have occurred among nursing home residents.
Photo: Christopher Michel/Flickr