Image of Assistant Secretary of HHS Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D.

“Every single” nursing home across the country will be given “point-of-care” COVID-19 tests by the administration starting next week, officials announced Tuesday.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma announced the development at a press conference in Baton Rouge, LA, where Vice President Pence and others had traveled to meet with the governor and also promote school reopenings this fall.

The testing devices initially are to be given to 2,000 nursing homes next week, said Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Admiral Brett Giroir. He described them as “rapid on the spot, 20 tests per hour” devices and said that the goal is to get them to “every single of the 15,400 nursing homes within this country.”

Nursing homes would receive the devices in an order “ranked by Administrator Verma and her team,” as determined by the rate of the virus’ spread in the surrounding community, Giroir added. The administration has said lately that it has been focusing certain efforts on “hotspot” areas.

Verma noted that the point-of-care tests will be used for residents and workers.

“This is not an acquisition,” Giroir said. “This is not just writing a check and doing it. This has been the culmination of about two months of work, to develop the technology, increase the sensitivity of the test to make sure they’ll be highly protective. Of investments in technology, of regulatory flexibility with the FDA, to bring it all together.”

Giroir said the day’s announcement was a “really historic moment” and predicted that the deliveries would “save thousands of lives.”

The leader of the largest nursing home association in the United States called the testing announcement from Louisiana “welcome news for long-term care residents, staff and providers.”

“Repeated, ongoing testing is the only way we are going to beat this virus,” said American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson. “Regular testing of nursing home and assisted living staff is a vital step in controlling the spread of COVID-19, but is not effective without obtaining timely test results. For nursing homes and assisted living communities to protect residents and staff, we need on-site testing with reliable and rapid results.”

Giroir separately told NPR in a report today that because testing has ramped up so quickly, the unprecedented demand has increased wait times for results from laboratories, often to about a week. The rise is something verified by results of an informal poll of hundreds of LeadingAge members Monday.

In a pair of poll questions posed to listeners on the LeadingAge daily coronavirus call, just about half (49%) reported longer recent wait times between testing and receiving results. The other responses were “no change” (29%) and “faster” (21%).

In terms of actual response times, the largest category was “2 to 5 days” (42%), followed by “5 to 7 days” (26%), “less than 48 hours” (17%) and “more than a week” (12%). The non-scientific polling did not measure geographic or provider-size mix.

Giroir told NPR that fast point-of-care tests can ease laboratories’ burdens, and possibly assist with faster reopenings of schools and businesses.

“Certainly by September, we expect to have 15 to 20 million point of care tests. That’s as many tests as we’re doing every month now,” Giroir said, adding that the administration wants to see 100 million tests per month happening then.

Critics of point-of-care testing have pointed out that error rates can be as high as 20%.

This is a developing story. Please check back for further details.