EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state’s COVID testing protocols for long-term care and assisted-living facilities haven’t been updated since September, 12 News has learned.
Annemarie Beardsworth, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health, confirmed that the protocols are still in line with the recommended guidelines put forth by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Since Dec. 1, the R.I. Department of Health has reported between 65 to 69 new resident cases across the state’s long-term care facilities, with Providence’s Berkshire Place having the highest number of new cases.
Beardsworth said residents at these facilities are “monitored weekly through surveillance testing.”
John gage, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association (RIHCA), tells 12 News staff members are tested weekly, too.
“Staff with medical exemptions who are still working under the mandate provision … they are tested twice a week,” Gage added.
Beardsworth said unvaccinated residents are also tested every two weeks, and fully vaccinated residents are only tested when symptomatic or if they’ve been in contact with a positive case.
“This population is one that we have been closely monitoring throughout the pandemic. In these settings, one positive test result triggers the outbreak testing protocol,” Beardsworth explained.
Gage said that protocol includes bi-weekly testing for staff and residents until the facility has ha 14 consecutive days with no positive cases.
The Code of Federal Regulations, as it pertains to long-term care facilities, states residents have the right to refuse a COVID test.
If they do so, Beardsworth said the facility needs to have procedures in place to address the situation.
“We would work with the medical director, with the family and the resident,” Gage explained. “If they were adamant [about not being tested], they would be quarantined as if they were positive.”
It’s unclear how long a resident would be quarantined for under those circumstances. Gage said it’s usually handled on a case-by-case basis, and the resident would be monitored for symptoms throughout their quarantine.
Beardsworth said the facilities that are conducting outbreak testing are required to do a minimum of two tests per person.
While the state hasn’t updated its testing protocols for these facilities, Gage said they were given new guidance this week.
“They’ve asked us instead of doing two PCR tests a week and sending them to the lab, that we only do one test using a PCR and that we use the antigen test the BinaxNOW for the alternate test,” he explained.
While some people are worried about the omicron variant spreading throughout long-term care facilities, Gage believes they’re in a much better place than they were last year because of vaccines.
In regards to the Omicron variant, Gage said there is some worry but Rhode Island’s facilities are in a much better place this time around because of the high rate of vaccines.
“Rhode Island has the second-highest percentage of resident vaccinations and staff vaccination in the country,” Gage said.