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Illinois Nursing Homes, Hardest Hit By Coronavirus, Must Test All Residents And Staff Under New State Mandate

"Many facilities have been great partners, and they should be applauded," Gov. JB Pritzker said. "But longterm care residents are some of our most vulnerable Illinoisans. That's why strong compliance from many isn't good enough."

Pennsylvania Commonwealth microbiologist Kerry Pollard performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus inside the extraction lab at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories on Friday, March 6, 2020.
Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr
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CHICAGO — About 44 percent of all deaths from coronavirus in Illinois have been among people living in longterm care facilities like nursing homes.

Nursing homes across the country have been among the hardest-hit by coronavirus. Some in Illinois have been proactive in trying to fend off the virus — but others have only been “reactive” or have even dragged their heels as the state’s pushed them to do more to protect residents, Gov. JB Pritzker said during a Thursday press conference.

Now, the state’s Department of Public Health is requiring all nursing homes in the state to test all residents and staffers.

“Nursing home residents are at higher risk for infection, serious illness and death from COVID-19,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, in a statement. “While many facilities are working with IDPH and their local health departments to help keep residents safe, we cannot rely on voluntary compliance alone, and this additional regulatory authority will help ensure swift action.”

The new rule requires each nursing home to develop a testing plan and provide proof they’ve established a relationship with a testing lab, Pritzker said. The rule also requires facilities to comply “with infection control recommendations at large,” Pritzker said.

Each facility will report test results to public health officials.

The results will be used to identify people who have COVID-19 but aren’t showing symptoms, to confirm infection in people who do have symptoms, to make decisions and more, Pritzker said.

“Many facilities have been great partners, and they should be applauded,”
Pritzker said. “But longterm care residents are some of our most vulnerable Illinoisans. That’s why strong compliance from many isn’t good enough.”

Facilities who don’t comply will be found in violation of the rule. They will face fines or the loss of licenses, Pritzker said.

“COVID-19 is unrelenting, and it has visited its worst effect on older Americans,” Pritzker said. “But our state will continue to use every resource at its disposal … to protect our seniors in this crisis.”

In all, there have been 14,882 confirmed cases of coronavirus in longterm care facilities and 2,402 people in those facilities have died, according to state data.

There are about 1,100 longterm care facilities that focused on people who are elderly, and more than 900 of them have received in-person help from the Illinois Department of Public Health’s teams and from the Illinois National Guard, Pritzker said.

The state has delivered personal protective equipment to every nursing home in the state and has two teams of nurses who are “fanning out” to nursing homes, Pritzker said. One team has 200 nurses who are focused on COVID-19 infectious disease control surveys to monitor if facilities are complying with the state’s recommendations, who are helping with testing and who are training staff, among other things.

The other team has 100 contract nurses who are monitoring for infection prevention and control are providing testing help, Pritzker said.

“Those teams are ensuring best practices to keep residents safe and helping test residents and staff for facilities that have requested assistance when they cannot manage it themselves,” Pritzker said.

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