After previously being left out of the federal COVID-19 test allocation program, assisted living providers are about to receive a new antigen test authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last week. 

The federal government has purchased 150 million new BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card tests from Abbott Laboratories with the intention of beginning distribution in mid-September to states and congregate care facilities, including assisted living communities, Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a call with members of the media on Tuesday.

First in line for distribution will be states coping with natural disasters, Giroir said. Distribution to assisted living communities, senior centers, home health staff and nursing homes will follow, with the “overwhelming majority” of tests going to states to help reopen schools and protect first responders, he added.

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s Senior Living that the announcement was a “positive step in the right direction.”

“We appreciate the federal government’s assistance in supplying point-of-care tests to assisted living communities in addition to the previously announced distribution to all nursing homes nationwide,” the association said in a statement. “Access to testing means that long-term care providers can better identify who has the virus and make tactical decisions to protect residents and staff.”

AHCA / NCAL said it looks forward to working with HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services “to expand this program in the coming weeks and months as well as address questions such as resupply.”

Legal protections for point-of-care testing

On Monday, HHS issued guidance extending legal protections to healthcare providers who administer point-of-care coronavirus tests to screen asymptomatic individuals in congregate care settings, including assisted living communities, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The protections under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness, or PREP, Act supersede state and local laws prohibiting the use of FDA-authorized tests on symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals in congregate care facilities.

“We’re not going to risk seniors because of paperwork issues or some misunderstandings,” Giroir said. 

The BinaxNow test is a $5 rapid-results coronavirus antigen test intended for use within the first seven days of symptom onset in individuals suspected of having COVID-19. A healthcare provider twirls a nasal swab sample onto a credit card-sized test device and waits about 15 minutes for a result similar to a pregnancy test; one line indicates a negative result, and two lines signal a positive result. 

In related news:

Feds announce Provider Relief Fund application for private-pay assisted living Private-pay assisted living communities now may apply for funding under the Provider Relief Fund phase 2 general distribution allocation, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday. Assisted living operators that serve Medicaid beneficiaries already were eligible to apply for the funds, but now private-pay operators are eligible. Newly eligible operators will receive an amount equal to 2% of their annual revenue from resident care, as have other providers applying for phase 2 funding, HHS said.