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U.S. agency spells out new COVID-19 testing mandate for nursing homes

FILE PHOTO: A care-giver at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Seattle-area nursing home at the epicenter of one of the biggest coronavirus outbreaks in the United States, works in a resident’s room in Kirkland, Washington, U.S., March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

(Reuters) - Nursing homes in the United States will now be required to test staff for COVID-19 and offer testing to residents, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said on Tuesday.

The new rules also mandate nursing homes to share test results with the U.S. government and hospitals to provide data on COVID-19 cases to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The U.S. government has been pushing to increase the availability of tests, especially cheap, fast turnaround tests, to make it easier to identify and quarantine sick patients as the country continues to reopen its economy.

The U.S. in July purchased 2,000 antigen test systems and 750,000 tests from Becton, Dickinson and Co to be distributed to nursing homes. Residents of nursing homes die and experience severe complications from COVID-19 at a higher rate than the general population.

Antigen tests are low-cost and produce results quickly but can be less accurate than laboratory tests.

“It is always better to have rapid turnaround tests that can be done frequently than infrequent tests that have a slow turnaround,” said Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at HHS, on a call with reporters.

Nursing homes that fail to provide adequate testing to residents will be fined, CMS said.

In July, the Trump administration released an additional $5 billion from the Provider Relief Fund to help nursing homes address critical needs, including hiring additional staff and increasing testing.

Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler