The San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and Mayor Breed announced Friday that the City will soon order all 21 of its skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to have their staff and residents tested for COVID-19, a part of SF's "next phase" to expand coronavirus testing.
For obvious reasons: this is welcomed news. SNFs and like-care facilities are proving to be ground-zero for the novel respiratory disease, with some estimates revealing 20,000 nursing home residents have passed due to the coronavirus; in California specifically, a third of all COVID-19-related deaths are linked to elderly care homes. Now, in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus inside nursing homes, SFDPH will soon order all of San Francisco's SNFs to check for the pathogen, with the majority of the testing conducted by the public health department.
In order to protect vulnerable residents in our nursing facilities, we will be testing everyone in the 21 facilities in SF every 2 weeks. These locations have been the source of major outbreaks throughout the country & we're doing everything we can to protect residents and staff.— London Breed (@LondonBreed) May 1, 2020
“Since this public health emergency began, protecting vulnerable populations living in skilled nursing facilities has been one of our top priorities,” said Mayor Breed in a news release published May 1. “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.”
But aid could've well come sooner.
As Mission Local reports, staff at the Central Gardens Convalescent Hospital — one the hardest hit elderly care facilities in SF, having 67 people test positive for COVID-19 in late-April — demanded universal COVID-19 testing nearly a month ago; they were swiftly rejected. Two-and-a-half weeks later, after the severity of the pandemic reached unseen heights, did the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) then decide to administer tests for staff and patients. And those delayed analyses proved their worst assumptions: a large number of workers and residents still on-site were infected.
Now, City Hall is heeding such concerns and inching closer toward "universal access" to COVID-19 testing.
"Our vision is to have universal access to testing for all in San Francisco,” said Dr. Colfax in the same release. “To get there, we have continually expanded testing, based on where the need is greatest, and the availability of resources. We have focused first on mitigating outbreaks, protecting vulnerable populations, following case contact investigations, and testing of frontline workers."
Colfax, too, noted on the importance of tracing "asymptomatic residents and staff" at these communal facilities: "Testing asymptomatic residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities is a decisive move to protect these most vulnerable people, and their caregivers, who are at high risk of an outbreak.”
SFDPH announced they've also created a new set of outbreak protocols (a “tool kit”) for these SNFs to utilize, which includes an array of prescribed procedures to help mitigate outbreaks and transmission rates; testing, as the City notes, is "one piece of a larger strategy" toward prevention.
The first round of this new, more encompassing style of SNF testing is expected to take upwards of a month and will primarily be done by SFDPH workers. This phase of prevention is scheduled to start tomorrow, May 4, at Laguna Honda Hospital and will expand from there.
Odds are if you'd like to get tested yourself, you can. SF's testing sites, as SFist mentioned prior, are currently under capacity, and you can schedule a test here. (Though remember: examination at any CityTestSF site remains limited to only individuals who show outward symptoms — coughing, fever, body aches, etc. — for COVID-19.)
As of this past Friday, the SFDPH states that 20,433 people in San Francisco have been tested for coronavirus with around 9 percent of those kits coming back positive.
Image: Wikimedia Commons