June 8, 2020

Federal data shows COVID-19 spread in some Arizona long-term care facilities

Arizona is increasing testing in long-term care facilities, but some say the state was slow to act early on.

covid-19 testing adhs A March 15 Arizona Department of Health Services photo of COVID-19 tests.
ADHS via Facebook

More than 350 long-term care facilities in Arizona have reported cases of COVID-19 among residents or staff.

The residents of those facilities are often the elderly or people with underlying health issues. Those are the same groups that are most vulnerable to the disease.

“There are nearly 2,500 cases in Pima County and 24% of those are associated with long-term care settings, but 60% of the deaths are from long-term care,” said Kate Ellingson with the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Media outlets sued the state to release the names of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases. A judge ruled the state does not have to do so, but the federal government is releasing some of that information.

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published the names of facilities that take federal dollars and their rates of COVID cases.

Some warn that the information needs to be taken with a note of caution.

“Just because a facility has someone who tests positive for COVID, it doesn’t mean that the facility is doing anything wrong and not providing good care to the loved one. You know it is community spread, and people could be working in the facility and be asymptomatic,” said Dana Kennedy, state director, AARP Arizona.

Testing was slow to get underway in Arizona — for everyone, not just those in long-term care facilities. Kennedy said, especially when dealing with the elderly, that was a problem.

In mid-May, the White House ordered all staff and residents of long-term care facilities to be tested for the novel coronavirus. The state is working to complete that order.

“Specimen collection has been completed at 71 facilities. Fifteen are doing their own testing, not on behalf of the state. We’ve tested a total of over 8,000 staff and individuals and we continue work, and we’ll have all the facilities tested by June 11,” said Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

In Pima County, that kind of testing was underway before the federal mandate. For the county, the required, initial round of testing is only the beginning.

“Once we get that initial sort of testing done, we want to continue to follow up with testing regularly so that we can keep on top of any new positives in the facility,” said Kristin Robinson-Lund, a registered nurse with the Pima County Health Department.

The state is opening up for business, but visitors are still banned from long-term care facilities. That will not be changing in Pima County.

“As we see increased transmission in our community the possibility that someone from the community can bring in COVID-19 increases,” said Ellingson.

When someone at a long-term care facility tests positive, the family of all residents are supposed to be notified.

AZPM contacted long-term care facilities in Pima County but they refused our invitation for interviews.

The information from the federal government showing each facility in the country will be updated weekly.

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