Part of expanding coronavirus testing in Moab will involve regularly testing residents at the Canyonlands Care Center. This isn’t just part of the plan that local health officials have in place; guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control encourages residents of long-term care facilities be tested regularly to see whether they have SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The challenge, though, is testing people who are highly vulnerable to COVID-19 while ensuring they are not exposed to the coronavirus in the process. The CDC emphasizes that regularly testing residents for SARS-CoV-2 “should not supersede existing [infection prevention and control] interventions.”
In other words, the CDC wants residents of long-term care facilities tested, but only if health care providers — who themselves are at high risk of exposure due to the nature of their work — can administer tests without infecting patients.
The concern is unique to care facilities, where residents have largely been disallowed from leaving amid the pandemic and can’t easily or safely exit the facilities to be tested. The CDC has also encouraged providers to heavily screen visitors such that, in many cases, in-person visits are only permitted in end-of-life cases.
In other cases, the CDC recommends visitors be allowed “only during select hours” and in a manner that allows “continued social distancing” between residents and visitors. How strict the visitor policies are varies by facility and the resources available to each.
In Moab, no visitors are being allowed at all at the Canyonlands Care Center, according to Colette Lyman, the facility administrator.
“As soon as the CDC and Utah Department of Health came out with recommended visitor restrictions, we followed,” Lyman said. “No visitors at all.”
This isolation is in the name of protecting residents. Across the U.S., one in three people who dies of COVID-19 has been a resident of a long-term care facility. In Utah, the figure is higher: Roughly 40% of people who die from COVID-19 are long-term care patients.
Fortunately, Moab’s care center has escaped exposure to the coronavirus so far. According to Lyman, all tests on residents and staff members have come back negative for the virus, and the facility has been proactive in its response to the pandemic.
“We implemented face coverings for our staff at all times two weeks before the CDC [and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] recommended it,” Lyman said. “We have plenty of personal protective equipment ready if we get any residents with symptoms.”
Although the care center is awaiting guidance from the CMS and Utah Department of Health on how to safely begin asymptomatic testing of residents, each care center worker has already been getting tested every three weeks as a proactive measure. “We have been screening staff (temperatures, symptoms, etc.) every shift since early March,” Lyman said. “We assess residents daily to watch for any signs and symptoms.”
Despite the positive figures and statistics, the pandemic has still taken a toll on the care center and those connected to it. “The residents miss their families, friends and regular visitors,” Lyman said. “We help them call on the phone, Skype, and FaceTime often. We increased one-on-one activities and encourage lots of outside activities in our beautiful courtyard now that the weather is warm. Their moods are lifted with the wonderful letters the community has been [writing. Everyone](//writing. Everyone) has been understanding and [supportive. Staff](//supportive. Staff), residents, and families look forward to the day visitors can safely see, visit and hug their loved ones.”