Los Angeles County issued a new health officer order Friday that requires all nursing facilities to test staff and residents for the coronavirus, even those without symptoms of the respiratory illness.
County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced the order, saying it is aimed at reducing transmission of COVID-19 at the facilities and protecting residents, who are among the most vulnerable to serious illness amid the pandemic.
Starting Monday, all nursing homes will be required to conduct COVID-19 testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and staff.
As the new order is rolled out, testing will be prioritized at facilities with the biggest outbreaks of the virus, and then at all the county’s over 300 nursing facilities, Ferrer said.
All licensed facilities countywide were instructed to work with the county Department of Public Health to decide how frequently to test residents and staff.
Nursing homes across Southern California have been particularly hit hard as the virus spreads through the region.
Nearly half of the county’s skilled nursing facilities have reported infections among both staff and residents, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Twenty-six of the county’s skilled nursing facilities had reported 20 or more COVID-19 cases among their residents as of Wednesday.
Ferrer announced the new initiative to expand testing at the nursing homes earlier this week.
And with increasing testing, officials found that more than half of those who tested positive for the coronavirus at institutional settings in L.A. County did not have any symptoms of the respiratory illness.
Stepping up testing is one of several requirements the order outlines to curb the spread of the illness at nursing homes in the county.
All staff at nursing homes have to wear surgical masks and use personal protective equipment. Residents also have to wear surgical masks or cloth face coverings when they’re outside their personal rooms, Ferrer said.
While protective equipment for health care workers remains in limited supply, the county’s public health agency announced Monday that over 2.8 million masks, 8,000 gowns, 200,000 gloves and 50,000 face shields are being distributed this week to skilled nursing facilities countywide.
All facilities have also been told to limit entry to employees only.
Non-essential visitors and workers can no longer come inside any of the nursing homes. Group dining and activities were also suspended to make sure physical distancing guidelines are implemented, according to the order.
As of Friday, there were 293 institutional settings in L.A. County with at least one confirmed COVID-19 case. Together, they have reported over 5,339 people infected, most of whom are residents.
And 365 people who lived at the facilities died from COVID-19 — that represents 43% of all COVID-19 deaths across L.A. County.
Ferrer said most of the fatalities tied to skilled nursing facilities are among residents.
The latest data show a spike in the number of people who have tested positive for the virus in facilities across the county.
Ferrer said this is because the county has already ramped up testing at the facilities, which has helped in identifying both symptomatic and asymptomatic people who were infected with the coronavirus.
Los Angeles County recorded another 52 deaths related to COVID-19 and 1,035 new cases Friday, bringing the county’s coronavirus case total up to 18,517 with 848 deaths.