White House encourages states to test nursing home residents, staff

The White House is encouraging states to test all nursing home staff and residents for the novel coronavirus.

The Associated Press reported that Vice President Pence told governors in a regular video conference on Monday that the federal government is recommending the testing be done over the next two weeks. 

A source familiar with the phone call told The Hill that Pence’s remarks were meant to encourage states to test nursing home staff and residents but that it would be the responsibility of the states, not the federal government, to perform the testing.

“It was not meant to be an overly prescriptive encouragement,” the source said.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) during a press conference Monday afternoon noted that Pence encouraged the states to do more to ramp up testing.

“The gist of the call was just this: and that is, encouragement to do more as far as reopening, encouragement to do more and more testing,” Justice told reporters. 

“All the states now with the guidance of the federal government are going to try to get every person in all nursing homes in this country tested in the next two weeks,” he continued.

Elderly individuals have been particularly susceptible to the coronavirus. Nearly 40 coronavirus-related deaths were linked to a nursing home in Washington state early on during the domestic outbreak. New data released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that coronavirus deaths in long-term care facilities account for a third or more deaths in most states. 

Asked why the White House was only now making this recommendation, a senior administration official told reporters that the federal government has put an emphasis on elderly populations from the beginning. Officials also did not rule out requiring states to test all nursing home patients if necessary.

“We’ve asked them to put an emphasis on elderly populations the entire time. We pointed that out very early and if the states aren’t able to come back with plans quickly to do it then there is a good chance that we will order them to do that,” the senior administration official said, before noting that officials believe testing capacity is sufficient for states to ramp up testing in nursing homes. 

The call between Pence, who is leading the White House coronavirus task force, and governors comes as states move to loosen restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus and begin to allow some businesses to reopen.

Public health experts have singled out testing capacity as a key hurdle as the United States seeks to safely reopen in a way that prevents future outbreaks.

President Trump has largely deemed it the states’ responsibility to increase testing, but the White House has increasingly been working with states in recent weeks in order to help ramp up testing nationwide. The U.S. has conducted about 9 million tests to date and officials have said they expect to conduct 8 million tests in the month of May.  

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Mike Pence

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