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Justice orders statewide nursing home COVID-19 testing for all staff and residents, even if done before

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice expressed his frustration over a COVID-19 reporting failure at a Jackson County nursing home through a new executive order or Friday.

He’s ordered the Department of Health and Human Resources and the National Guard to test and – if they’ve previously been tested – re-test every resident and staff member at every nursing home, long-term care and extended care facility in the state.

A lot of people at those places are doing good work, he said. “Just doing good stuff’s not good enough.” Some people are dying. “It needs to be perfect.”

Justice said that the Jackson County incident is still under investigation but the entire statewide situation is not where it needs to be. “Right now I’m concerned that we’re missing something.”

He said there is no specific deadline to get it all done, just “as soon as possible.”

Asked if he might extend that order to retirement homes and communities, which have a similar population, he said, “This is a pandemic with a thousand different tentacles.” It’s novel and they’re knocking down barriers as they go, so retirement homes may be next. “We can’t knock down every barrier all at once.”

With ongoing delays in labs delivering test results to the DHHR, Justice said he’d also directed DHHR to order all labs to provide real time e-reports of all positive and negative COVID-19 tests. “We don’t have the expediency we need from all the labs.”

DHHR had already issued the order before Justice announced it during his Friday morning press briefing. It says the results must be delivered to DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health and the appropriate county health department.

The order also requires each laboratory to become a validated submitter to the West Virginia Health Information Network or West Virginia Electronic Disease Surveillance System and must begin that process by April 21, DHHR said. Laboratories may continue testing while in the registration process.

DHHR urged all all health care providers to use laboratories capable of electronic reporting to the greatest extent practicable.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch elaborated during the press briefing. He said 34 labs are not connected electronically to the state systems, and the existing system wasn’t built for the COVID-19 volume.

One Texas lab, he said, faxed 36 positive tests to the BPH last week. “That’s not acceptable.” And the Charleston Health Department faxed in nine results Thursday night, waiting until Friday morning to send them electronically.

Other tidbits from the briefing. Justice and COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh both spent some time talking again about Phase 2 and reopening the state.

Justice referred to President Trump’s multi-phase Opening Up America Again plan and recognized the need to get people back to work. “I’m not going to back away in any from from protecting you and listening to our experts. … It’s a balancing act.”

Marsh talked again about expanding testing – he’d previously said this means creating a surveillance system to understand areas that are higher risk and testing people in those areas more broadly – those with symptoms but also those who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. He also reiterated that widespread antibody testing, to see who’s immune and won’t catch or spread the virus, will be crucial.

Right now, the capacity exists to perform 2,500 to 3,000 tests per week in-state, and other out-of-state partners could increase that capacity, he said. All states have suffered from supply chain issues for testing materials – for instance, all the swabs come from Italy. So the state is looking to create critical partnerships to scale up testing and surveillance.

“We are thinking about these in very clear terms,” he said. “This is really a rapid learning model.”

Crouch urged those who need testing but lack insurance to get tested. One of the COVID-19 bills to come from Congress before CARES, called Families First, mandates no patient copays or coinsurance for the insured, and free testing for the uninsured.

And Justice mentioned the Paycheck Protection Program, part of CARES, which offers forgivable loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The first $350 billion for PPP is gone and Congress is stalled on restocking it with another $250 billion.

He said, “If you’re still one of those wishing to apply, don’t become discouraged.” Congress is set to return to work on it next week.

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