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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Testing All Mountain West Nursing Home Residents And Staff Could Cost $15 Million

A nurse swabs a nursing home resident in New Jersey in early May.
Spc. Miguel Pena
U.S. Army Reserve
A nurse swabs a nursing home resident in New Jersey in early May.

Nursing home residents and workers account for about one-third of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S., as The New York Times reported last week. Testing every resident and worker could help slow the spread in nursing homes – but it's expensive.

It would cost a combined $15 million to test, just once, every nursing home resident and staff member in the Mountain West for COVID-19, according to a report published by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. Nationwide, the cost would be about $440 million.

Ideally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend testing all staff and residents of a nursing home if there is a new confirmed case. It also recommends follow-up testing until there are no new cases for two weeks straight. 

The report assumes each test will cost $150, though prices vary, and it says one-time comprehensive nursing home testing would cost more than $5 million in Colorado, about $2 million each in New Mexico, Nevada and Utah, about $1.4 million each in Idaho and Montana, and about $700,000 in Wyoming. The groups say given the price of testing all residents and staff once, testing on a regular basis would be prohibitively expensive without more state and federal support.

In Denver, researchers tested staff at a handful of nursing homes and found that, out of more than 500 staff, about 12% of them had the virus but no symptoms. The Colorado State University team told The Coloradoan their results suggest asymptomatic staff could be the “spark” igniting some of the nursing home outbreaks. 

The researchers now plan to test residents and staff at 25 nursing homes across the state every week for two months. According to the university, a contract with the state was signed late Tuesday, and testing is supposed to be completed by September 1.

The number of coronavirus deaths at Colorado nursing homes and senior care facilities has reached 711, the Colorado Sun reports.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Copyright 2021 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

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Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Rae Ellen Bichell
I cover the Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on land and water management, growth in the expanding west, issues facing the rural west, and western culture and heritage. I joined KUNC in January 2018 as part of a new regional collaboration between stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Please send along your thoughts/ideas/questions!
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