Inslee to order widespread coronavirus testing in nursing homes

SEATTLE -- Gov. Jay Inslee plans to order widespread testing at all skilled nursing facilities across the state.

The state revealed last week that 61 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Washington are linked to long-term care facilities. The governor has now tasked the Department of Health to come up with a plan to test every resident and staff member in nursing home facilities.

On Wednesday, public health officials told local health departments that it amounts to about 37,000 tests. Expanding widespread testing to all long-term care facilities would about double the tests needed, according to Dr. James Lewis, clinical lead for Public Health -- Seattle & King County.

The news of the forthcoming directive from the governor has local health departments trying to figure out how they can achieve such testing volumes.

"It's not an easy task, it's actually a monumental task with many challenges and barriers involved," said Ingrid Ulrey, policy director and lead for King County's long-term care facility response. "But we've made good progress toward it in King County. Depending on what comes out with the governor's directive, people are going to need the time and the supplies necessary to get this done."

In King County, 44 of 52 nursing homes have been fully tested at least once. About 70 percent of all skilled nursing facilities in the county have had at least one positive COVID-19 case.

"For it to be as useful as it can be, you really need to do ongoing testing on a regular basis, whether that be some period of days, a week or two weeks" Lewis said. "But really going beyond two weeks becomes less useful so you really need to be able to do testing on a frequent basis. In order for that to be realistic, we're going to have to have much better access to test kits and ."

The governor has not finalized, published or issued any directive, according to his communications director, Tara Lee. She said testing supplies capacity is a factor in the state's ability to test all residents and staff in long-term care facilities and said the governor, along with DOH, the Department of Social and Health Services, long-term care associations and public health officials will work together to finalize a plan.

The state has plenty of testing capacity but is still working to procure more testing supplies. In the first week of May, the entire state administered around 33,000 COVID-19 tests, fewer than what it would take to test staff and residents at skilled nursing facilities one time.