Fully vaccinated nursing home personnel will no longer have to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, according to new guidance quietly issued by the New York State Health Department to nursing home operators on Thursday.
Personnel who have not been fully vaccinated — including employees, contract staff, medical staff, operators and administrators — must continue to receive a COVID-19 test twice a week.
Nursing homes and long term care facilities were hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Well over 15,000 nursing home and longterm care facility residents died from COVID-19 in New York, although the reporting of these deaths sparked controversy for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
The Cuomo administration has blamed spread of the virus in these facilities on asymptomatic staff. Others point to the state’s March 25 order that required nursing homes accept COVID-19 positive patients back into their facilities.
On May 10, 2020, Cuomo issued an executive order requiring that all nursing home and adult care facility personnel be tested twice a week.
“That's not just a temperature check. That is a diagnostic test,” the governor said at the time. “We have the tests available. We have brought them online. The state has more testing capacity than any state in the country. They have to test their staff twice a week. That is a rule. It's not an 'I'd appreciate it if you did.’”
Now, as COVID-19 positive cases are on the decline and vaccination rates have shot up across the state, the health department said it is ready to align its rules with guidance from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services that came out in April.
Nursing home facilities will still be required to screen all staff, residents and visitors for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Any positive test result must continue to be reported to the health department by 1 p.m. the day following the positive test results.
Nursing home advocacy groups and lawmakers have been calling for months now for the state to ease its testing rules on staff.
“I am glad our requests have been granted and God bless our nursing home staff who have endured so much,” state Assemblyman John McDonald said.
However, the number of nursing home staff that has been vaccinated is still lagging, with about 62 percent of nursing home staff at least partially vaccinated, compared to 85 percent of nursing home residents.