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Trump Administration to Require Weekly Testing to Allow Visitors in Nursing Homes

Since the start of the pandemic, Joan Hipler, left, has been unable to visit her mother in a Hollywood nursing home.
Courtesy of Joan Hipler
Since the start of the pandemic, Joan Hipler, left, has been unable to visit her mother in a Hollywood nursing home.

The Trump administration has announced plans to require certain nursing homes to test staff “and visitors” for COVID-19 once a week and opened the door to again allowing visitation at the homes. Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said this week that the administration wants to require nursing homes in states with a minimum 5 percent COVID-19 positivity rate to test nursing home staff and visitors once a week.

“In terms of visitors, you’ll see this coming up, what we’re going to say is, ‘We want to make sure there is no COVID inside a nursing home,’” Verma said in a phone call with the news media. “And once we see that for two weeks, our recommendation will be to permit visitation and to require testing.” To accomplish that goal, the Trump administration will send rapid point-of-care diagnostic devices and associated tests to nursing homes. 

The weekly testing mandate will require rules before it can be implemented. Verma refused to comment on the timeline for the rule other than to say that “it’s forthcoming.” The administration also announced an additional $5 billion in “provider relief funds” to nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.

Florida Health Care Association Executive Director Emmett Reed lauded the additional funding, saying in a prepared statement that the “support will go a long way in meeting the needs of our members, who we know will be in this battle for months to come.” Verma also said the federal government sent strike teams to 18 nursing homes in six states --- including Florida --- between Saturday and Monday. The teams worked with the 18 nursing homes, offering testing and infection-control guidelines. The two-day deployment was a first, she said, adding that the administration will continue to send the teams to nursing homes with serious infection-control deficiencies and increases in COVID-19 cases.

In addition to Florida, strike teams visited nursing homes in Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “Testing and sound infection-control practices are more critical than ever,” Verma said.

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