FILE - Nursing home

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania public health officials said Tuesday some 693 nursing homes complied with the universal testing mandate established in June, providing the state with a better understanding of how widespread COVID-19 infections are inside these facilities. 

"This was an essential step to ensure that we further protect residents and staff within these vulnerable communities," Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. "We provided nursing homeowners and operators with the resources they needed to complete this huge task and we are appreciative for their cooperation.” 

Levine asked nursing homes to test all patients and staff by July 24. The $33 million undertaking became necessary, she said, after the department traced the source of nursing home outbreaks to asymptomatic employees. More than two-thirds of the state’s 7,000 virus deaths have occurred in these types of facilities, the department said.

Legislators have also raised questions about the state’s policy of readmitting residents discharged from the hospital after recovering from COVID-19. Levine denies that this practice – a federal guideline that was only followed in a handful of cases – triggered widespread outbreaks.

Facilities with no cases can begin allowing visitors in accordance with state social distancing guidelines, though she cautions it's a "delicate balance."

"Of course we want visitors to see their loved ones. It's critically important," she said. "However, we know how COVID-19 enters the facilities and its primarily through asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people, so we have to be so careful about who enters."

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.