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Local target testing yields favorable results

The results from a recent mass target testing site were all negative, but in the age of COVID-19, that’s a positive thing.

Last week, mass COVID-19 testing at the Marian Home by Webster County Public Health came back 100% negative for all 120 residents and staff.

And as case counts continue to tick up around the state, faster in some counties than others, that’s welcome news after myriad measures have been strictly implemented to prevent infections from ravaging local nursing homes.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” said Tracy Trotter, executive director of the Marian Home, upon receiving the results. “I was ecstatic at the results and so thankful for our staff and the steps they have taken to make sure our residents stay safe.”

Those measures include 14-day isolation for new residents or ones returning from any outside appointment, no matter their testing status. Respiratory and symptom checks are done daily on all residents. Those in isolation are cared for by staff in full-body personal protective equipment.

The no doubt difficult work has paid off so far, it seems.

Marian Home closed to visitors and put additional staff precautions in place around March 8.

Essential health care workers, the only ones allowed in the building, are screened upon arrival and exiting with a temperature check and questionnaire about COVID-19 symptoms. Staff members change into uniforms upon arrival and wear masks and protective eyeware. Communal dining and large group activities have been temporarily discontinued.

“Once our workers are in, there is no leaving on breaks or at meal time,” said Trotter.

Food is provided for staff working over lunch and dinner, if they don’t bring their own meals.

“Marian Home’s administration and staff have been extremely proactive since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kari Prescott, director of Webster County Public Health. “COVID-19 tests are a snapshot in time, and right now, for 120 tests to all come back negative really shows that the aggressive measures taken are working to keep this virus out of our long-term care facilities. The Marian Home’s administration should really be commended.”

Target testing is a fairly new tool that has been added to public health’s toolbox in the fight against outbreaks in nursing homes and densely-populated, essential work settings.

As coronavirus infections show no sign of ebbing while businesses reopen, targeted testing can help identify more infections faster, preventing outbreaks from starting or stopping a growing one in its tracks.

“Long-term care populations are vulnerable, so they need to be a top priority,” Prescott previously told The Messenger.

Targeted tests are timed to ensure multiple re-tests are not needed later, using contact tracing to take into account the incubation period and delay of symptom onset with COVID-19 in a group. Test too soon, and you run the risk of not identifying enough positive cases. Test too late, and a virus outbreak could already be out of hand.

About 80% of those with COVID-19 will show mild or no symptoms, public health officials have said frequently. Symptoms general take anywhere from two to 14 days after the point of exposure to manifest. By identifying more cases faster, those who are asymptomatic and would have continued with business as usual can be stopped from unknowingly spreading the virus.

“It gives us not only a little reassurance that for the window of time the testing was done, that our staff was negative, but also lets us know that the mitigation strategies that we have put in place have worked,” Trotter said.

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