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Nursing homes need more help than just relief funding from the state

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - Governor Kim Reynolds announced Thursday morning that 1/4 of Iowa's long term care facilities have COVID-19 outbreaks among their residents.

An outbreak is classified as three or more residents testing positive for the virus and a facility cannot be taken off the active list until it's gone 28 days with zero positive tests.

"We're at the most serious stage of the pandemic in long-term care. No doubt about it right now," Brent Willet said, president and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association.

The state's dashboard shows 118 out of roughly 443 facilities with an outbreak. One of the largest is at Ravenwood Specialty Care in Waterloo.

The governor did have an answer of sorts for the situation; $14 million in CARES Act funding. She said that money will mainly help facilities with their testing capacity.

Willett, whose organization connects nursing homes with PPE vendors and more, says these facilities are using antigen testing to screen their staff and residents twice a week.

Antigen testing looks for coronavirus proteins on the surface of healthy cells, instead of analyzing the whole cell to see if it's infected. PCR testing (usually done with a deep nasal swab and returned in more than 24 hours) analyzes the whole molecular makeup of a cell.

"When they see a positive, that's when they're going to flip over to the PCR, which are more expensive and take longer to do but do have a higher accuracy rate," Willett said.

Read IDPH guidance here about how much to trust antigen test results in nursing homes.

Willett says many nursing homes will likely use these funds to acquire more PCR testing.

He believes this will help long term care facilities fight the virus but the real hurdle is community transmission. He says with a vaccine in sight, Iowans need to make responsible decisions to keep each other safe.

"We have to run the clock out together; and by that, we have to hold community spread down for the next three or four months," Willett said.

The governor's office says long term care facilities can also use the money to request and pay for PPE should they need it. Willett says less than 10% of facilities are struggling to get PPE right now but it is still expensive.

Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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