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Nursing homes complete virus testing

All of Pennsylvania’s 693 nursing homes have completed coronavirus testing of all residents and staff at least once, a few days after last week’s deadline, which was set by Department of Health order June 8, State Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Tuesday in a webcast press conference.

The testing is intended mainly to identify asymptomatic and presymptomatic people to protect against infections in the homes, which, along with personal care facilities, account for more than two-thirds of the state’s 7,146 COVID deaths.

The testing brings the nursing homes “one step closer to achieving all prerequisites for their implementation plan(s) to allow safe visitation, communal dining” and other activities, stated a Department of Health news release.

The reopening guidelines are contained in a long document that calls for facilities to be free of COVID cases for at least 14 days before they can move toward admitting visitors and conducting other activities — and that calls for them to retreat if a case occurs.

Facilities in counties in the red zone of reopening would not be allowed to embark on that course, according to the guidelines.

Nursing home administrators are familiar with what they need to do, Dr. Levine said, answering a reporter who pointed out the difficulty of interpreting the guidance.

“If there are no cases, (the homes) will progress through the path,” Levine said, while acknowledging that loved ones may be impatient to visit the residents.

When cases occur, the homes will need to retest, which will delay visitation, Levine said.

The department is trying to “balance” safety with socialization, she indicated.

Protocols for retesting will vary by facility and county, largely depending on infection rates, according to Levine.

Thus, they’ll be different in Allegheny County, where there have been many infections, and Bradford County, where there have been few, according to Levine.

The effort required about 100,000 tests to be administered, with much of the needed supplies provided by the DoH, according to the news release.

The testing could not have been done much earlier — say in May — because there weren’t enough supplies at the time, Levine said.

The state’s 1,900 personal care homes have a later deadline for completion of testing, with a similar protocol to follow after testing is done, according to Levine.

The later deadline reflects the greater number of those facilities, she said.

Nothing prohibits them from completing the testing earlier, she said.

Levine began the news conference with a response to insulting remarks and actions directed at her in reference to her being transgender, including a man impersonating her at a dunk tank at a Fireman’s Relief Carnival at the Bloomsburg Fair last week.

“I feel that I must personally respond to the multiple incidents of LGBTQ harassment and specifically transphobia directed at me,” she stated, her words transcribed in a news release that followed the press conference. “While these individuals may think they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffer directly from these current demonstrations of harassment.”

The actions “perpetuate a spirit of intolerance and discrimination” that continues despite a recent and welcome U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s ongoing support, which began before his election, she said.

“The most vulnerable among us continue to suffer, including LGBTQ individuals of color, LGBTQ youth and seniors and LGBTQ immigrants,” she said.

She accepts any sincere apologies, and called on people who have offended “to work toward a spirit of not just tolerance but a spirit of acceptance and welcoming toward LGBTQ individuals.”

She has “no room in (her) heart for hatred” or time for intolerance and plans to “stay laser-focused” on trying to protect Pennsylvanians from COVID-19, she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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