The federal government will prioritize nursing homes with three or more coronavirus cases during the initial distribution of point-of-care COVID-19 tests. 

During a call with nursing homes Wednesday evening, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said that the federal government will also be focusing on facilities in hotspot areas, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, initially. CMS has been able to put together a list based on information nursing homes have provided to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.

“We’ll be prioritizing those nursing homes in the next week or so,” she said, adding that CMS will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to release the tests to the most critical areas. 

Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Admiral Brett Giroir, who also spoke on the call, said that while the operation to release point-of-care tests will start relatively modestly, there will be no issues with supplies by the fall. 

“We’re going to build this plane a little bit while we’re flying it,” he said, adding later, “To get it perfect, we’d have to wait six months.”

Federal officials emphasized during the call how critical the new tests are to nursing homes. “We think this is going to be a turning point in this fight against the coronavirus and keeping our residents safe,” Verma said.

Giroir noted that the point-of-care tests, which also can detect the flu and other illnesses, are slightly less sensitive than laboratory tests. 

 “These are the best, most cost-effective tests we have on the market right now,” Giroir said. 

Mark Parkinson, head of the American Health Care Association, the largest nursing home association, thanked CMS for the effort and their partnership during the call. The ability to get the testing units in facilities is “absolutely critical,” he said

Federal health officials announced Tuesday that testing devices will first be given to 2,000 nursing homes next week and the goal is to eventually get the tests to all providers throughout the country. 

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