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Covid Care Home Testing: Keeping Residents Safe

George Griffiths

23 April 2021

Covid Care Home Testing: Keeping Residents Safe

George Griffiths

23 April 2021

As the Covid-19 vaccination programme rolls out, it remains vital to be vigilant about upholding care home coronavirus testing standards.

While many impacted have recovered from the worst outbreaks of the virus, it is imperative that care home testing is still a priority - for several critical reasons.

In this guide, we'll explore the value of regular care home testing Covid protocols and how the government advice for the social care sector is evolving.

What are the care home testing requirements?

Care homes Covid tests can be both lateral flow rapid tests and more accurate PCR tests. 

Combining the two is acceptable and can balance out the need for regular testing with fast results and reliance on laboratory analysis to verify lateral flow testing.

Any care facility is eligible for free testing packs, which they can order through the government website. To apply for a test pack for staff and residents, you will need to know:

  • Your care home UON (unique organisation number)
  • The total number of residents and staff, including agency workers
  • Contact information

Repeat testing is required for all care homes' coronavirus processes. Staff are tested twice weekly, even if they have had one or both of their vaccines.

Testing should include all social care staff, including non-clinical employees in care facilities or nursing homes, and agency staff to ensure that all professionals working or visiting the site have been cleared.

How do care home testing rules work for residents?

Testing for residents in care homes is just as necessary as for staff. Combined care home testing Covid rules maximise protection against the virus being carried into the building.

Earlier in the pandemic, care home testing for residents was monthly but is now likely to be weekly.

In some cases, the schedule may need to be flexible, and residents have the right to refuse to test. However, it remains a crucial measure in safeguarding the welfare of all care home residents.

Even when all residents have been vaccinated, they should still be offered testing. This is because:

  • Vaccinations are never 100% effective and may have varying protection levels in some residents
  • There may be residents who cannot be vaccinated due to underlying health conditions - this means that regular testing for both the resident and others in the facility is crucial to protect their health
  • You can still catch Covid-19 after having been vaccinated, although the symptoms should be less severe
  • The vaccination programme is being rolled out in stages. All care home workers and social care staff, plus all people over the age of 50, have been offered their first vaccine dose, but many are yet to receive their second, meaning protection is not comprehensive
  • Government guidelines recommend the second vaccination dose being administered within 12 weeks of the first, so care home workers will likely receive their final vaccination at different stage

New residents should also be tested through a PCR test. That applies whether they are moving into a care home from a private residence or have been discharged from the hospital.

PCR tests are intended to provide more accurate results. They can pick up positive coronavirus cases even where the viral load is low, making them more suitable for higher risk scenarios, such as admitting a resident who has not previously been tested.

Lateral flow tests, while less precise, are much faster and can quickly identify highly infectious individuals. This allows the care home to take immediate steps to prevent the spread of infection.

Do family members need Covid tests?

Care home testing Covid protocols apply to visitors who may make close contact with any staff member or resident and are permitted to visit inside the care home as per government rules.

While social distancing remains in effect, it is also essential to consider the resident's mental and emotional health quality. 

Having a testing policy in place is a precaution against any visitors potentially carrying the virus into the home and transmitting it to vulnerable residents even where close contact is not permitted.

Other visitors, including temporary staff or visiting professionals, should also be tested.

Family members should not visit if:

  • They have experienced any potential Covid-19 symptoms in the last ten days
  • Any family or household member has symptoms, has tested positive, or is awaiting a test result
  • They have had a positive test and have not yet completed the isolation period, followed by a confirmed negative test result

Care homes should follow their visiting policy when booking any visits from friends or family members. 

This process will ensure no high-risk factors apply and that a test has been arranged either on the day or far enough in advance to confirm a negative result before the date of the visit.

covid care home testing

What happens if coronavirus testing finds a positive case in the care home?

If any care home testing returns a positive result, the care home should follow their procedure for containing the outbreak and limiting the spread.

Steps can include:

  • Isolation for 14 days from the date of a positive resident test result
  • Staff isolation for ten days following exposure to a resident who has tested positive
  • Repeating testing on days four and seven for staff and residents who have tested negative to ensure there are no false negatives
  • Providing re-testing after 28 days from the last suspected case

Isolation can be challenging for residents, and it is critical to put measures in place to protect their well-being and manage symptoms and potential health implications of becoming infected.

Where residents have a positive test but display no symptoms, they should still isolate and avoid using communal areas. 

Staff can provide care and support, ensuring sufficient PPE is in place for their protection, as well as continuing with regular testing.

Outbreak management processes are vital to ensuring that care home testing successfully manages the threat of Covid-19 infections. Regular testing is an integral part of this system.

The general guidance around good hand hygiene, social distancing, face coverings and not visiting when any risk factors are present still apply.

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