With increased attention on the distribution of the various COVID-19 vaccines, skilled nursing providers must be sure to remain vigilant on another crucial area of safety in 2021: COVID-19 testing.
Even as vaccinations among SNF staff and residents are largely completed, SNFs must have a thorough and ongoing testing system to continue to identify new cases with new patients or staff members, as well as the influx of visitors. There are also many uncertainties around vaccines — including how long immunity will last — which will drive the need for continued testing.
Understanding how to handle testing will be paramount for success in 2021 and beyond. Here are three things SNF operators must know about COVID-19 testing in a post-vaccine world, with a look at how testing might play out over the next year — and what SNFs can do to keep residents and staff safe.
Five variables are driving COVID testing
According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as of March 2, nearly 20% of counties in the U.S. are still reporting COVID-19 test positivity rates of 10% or greater. And even as SNFs complete vaccination programs, the need to keep new residents and staff members safe will continue.
Those positivity rates are one of the five primary variables from a medical point of view that will affect the longer-term demand for COVID-19 testing. The second is the pace of vaccination.
“The first phase that we’re in now continues until we begin to see the impact of vaccination – a decrease in the case rate that is related to enough people being vaccinated,” says Dr. Jeffrey Andrews, worldwide medical director for molecular diagnostics at BD Integrated Diagnostics Solutions.
The third variable is the new case rate, and the fourth variable is the duration of the effect of a given vaccine. The fifth is the wild card – the continued mutation of the spike protein, potentially allowing the virus to escape vaccination.
SNFs need speed and ease when it comes to testing
Even as case rates decline and vaccinations increase, there will be continued demand for testing, given the unpredictability of several of the variables, Dr. Andrews says. This means SNFs will need to continue to have the ability to test patients, staff and visitors. This is particularly true if case rates see another uptick or for future flu seasons to rule out SARS-CoV -2 as a cause of symptoms such as fever, body aches and chills, common to both flu and COVID-19.
The BD Veritor Plus System is authorized for use on individuals suspected of COVID-19 within the first five days of symptom onset, and according to the FDA and CDC, may be ordered based on practitioner judgement for asymptomatic individuals with a known history of exposure or people living or working in a congregate setting. Certainly skilled nursing facilities residents and staff are included under those directives from HHS, the FDA and CDC.
“The BD Veritor Plus System is a rapid point-of-care test with a digital readout of the test results and connectivity to the cloud, which can facilitate sharing of test results with providers and public health officials,” he says. “But the most important thing is that it delivers rapid, point-of-care tests with test results in 15 minutes to allow for rapid isolation of any positive individual.”
In addition to having the ability to receive fast results to isolate positives as quickly as possible, Dr. Andrews notes the portability and ease of use of the BD Veritor Plus System makes it a great option for SNFs, or any long-term care and nursing home staff members to use.
“With its digitally read analyzer, even novice testers can gain confidence in the results,” Dr. Andrews says. “With the BD Veritor Plus System, testing results can also be digitally collected and exported – entered directly to your existing records or uploaded to a cloud for ease of communicating and reporting results. There are also barcode scanning capabilities that enable customizable documentation with patient IDs.”
Recognizing that manually reporting each test result can be a huge burden on staffing and resources, Dr. Andrews notes that BD also offers a companion app through a collaboration with ImageMover, which enables organizations performing point-of-care testing to efficiently capture required demographic details of those being tested, upload COVID-19 test results, report results to appropriate stakeholders and automate reporting to federal and state agencies.
It’s this speed and ease of reporting that has many SNFs turning to the BD Veritor Plus System to detect and contain the virus.
“When BD Veritor came out, it was a blessing for us to get test results right away,” says Jennifer Wirt, the administrator at Danville Care Center in Iowa.
SNFs must keep pushing toward 100% vaccination rates
What also matters is that SNFs keep pushing toward 100% vaccination rates, Dr. Andrews says.
“If people aren’t comfortable at the first chance for vaccination, I’m hoping there is a second and third chance for all staff as confidence increases,” he says. “Because in a nursing home island, having 100% vaccination is what you’ll need to relax.”
Wirt expresses the sentiment many SNFs are facing amid the vaccine rollout.
“We will have to wait to see how the vaccine is going to work on our residents,” she says. “The worrisome part is that some want to wait to get vaccinated. Even so, we will surge on and continue to use the BD Veritor Plus System.”
This article is sponsored by BD. To learn more about BD’s rapid COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) testing that is available to nursing homes nationwide via its BD Veritor Plus System, visit BDVeritor.com.