Providers are still having trouble securing reliable coronavirus testing despite healthcare facility workers being named a priority under federal guidance. 

“Providers are either reporting long lags in turnaround times for tests (7 to 10 days), or lack of access to testing at all,” the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living noted in a recent memo.

A backlog of tests in commercial laboratories, leading to long wait times for results; supply shortages within labs that can delay testing; and state prioritization, meaning workers’ ability to be tested may depend on local laws, are contributing to the problem. 

Testing priority for healthcare workers runs the gamut, the organization said. For example, healthcare facility workers and first responders, showing no symptoms of the disease, are listed under priority category No. 3  for coronavirus testing. Meanwhile, workers who do show symptoms are listed under priority category No. 1 for testing, while patients in long-term care facilities showing signs of the disease fall under priority category No. 2. 

Testing access has been a key concern nationwide since the coronavirus outbreak began in early March. AHCA/NCAL Chief Medical Officer David Gifford, M.D., has explained that additional testing for nursing home employees will help get “staff back into buildings quickly” to treat residents.              

Regardless of testing availability, the organization stated it’s “strongly recommending” that providers assume COVID-19 is already in their surrounding community and possibly in their facility. 

Providers should also approach two different types of tests with caution. There are differences between Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and antibody tests following recent company approvals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, AHCA’s memo said. It noted that the PCR test looks for genetic material from the virus, while the other looks to see if a person has antibodies from COVID-19 in their system. 

“The antibody test, unlike the PCR test, cannot tell you if someone is currently infected and sick with COVID-19. Antibodies start to become positive for some people when they still have the virus in the body, but antibodies will stay positive after the virus is gone,” AHCA/NCAL explained. 

In other coronavirus-related news: 

• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued two memorandums on provider respirator use. The first continues to allow providers to use and reuse approved respirators by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), while the second allows employers to use other respirators that are approved in other countries when NIOSH-approved equipment isn’t available.

• In brighter news, a PruittHealth facility in Georgia held a “Family Parade” for residents while following social distancing guidelines. Family members of a California assisted living community resident used a lift to deliver a birthday surprise.