One of the more intriguing research papers out of the dozens (hundreds?) already executed concerning COVID-19 and nursing homes was released this week. It might have wrongly left many providers on the defensive.

In brief, the machine that includes researchers McGarry-Gandhi-Barnett, and often another PhD holder or two, found that quick, point-of-care tests could have been used to much greater effect.

As I reported Thursday, if the federal government had spent approximately $5 million more to test all nursing home employees once more each week, thousands of lives likely could have been spared. The emphasis I put on that previous sentence is the federal government because that is who was giving direction, shipping the product and footing the bill for this public health issue at the time.

Some might have read the story or the New England Journal of Medicine report, however, and thought: “Hmmm, there go those negligent nursing homes again, not doing enough.”

First off, it must be remembered that these were extremely anxious times. The steamroller that was COVID-19 was fully recognized, yet seemingly unstoppable. Especially around nursing homes. It was a terrifying, bewildering thought played out in real time. 

Remember, too, that this period of 2020 was pre-vaccines, and amid a stretch when there were plenty of questions as to whether the 70% POC accuracy rate was good enough. As it turns out, it was, and still is, especially if used in a series.

However, lead researcher Brian McGarry, PhD, of Rochester University, made it clear that providers were not necessarily the culprits here. While the administration deserved praise for pushing the rapid tests, it didn’t do so with enough conviction. In many cases, tests remained unused on shelves. They often weren’t distributed with enough education about them. Their veracity and safety were allowed to be questioned and pillaged in the junky court of public opinion. 

In the end, it turns out doing something was better than nothing. Those providers who opted to make full use of the POCs in their facilities now know why their results might appear to be better than their neighbor’s. 

In the end, however, this is a negative-proof case, as I like to call it. Our scientists and mathematicians can’t definitely tell us how many deaths and cases would not have happened. We only have their best educated guesses. Thank goodness.

More definitive numbers would be best calculated with a few more “experiments” or test runs with all the variables in place.

To that, I think I have plenty of company in saying no thanks.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.