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Nursing homes to be disinfected, residents and staff tested

Texas nursing homes to be disinfected and tested

Members of the Texas Military Department’s Joint Task Force 176 unload kits at Camp Mabry in Austin for soldiers preparing to help with the disinfection of all of the state's nursing homes. Gov. Greg Abbott announced May 13 the creation and activation of the facilities disinfection teams, which will spread out across the state. Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

Gov. Greg Abbott made two major announcements this week, both targeting the coronavirus spread in nursing homes across the state. The first order is to test all staff and residents; the second launched a “disinfection mission” for the Texas National Guard.

The testing order came on May 11, shortly after a video conference call between Vice President Mike Pence, the White House coronavirus task force, and state governors during which Pence said it was the federal government’s recommendation to test all of the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes in the next two weeks.

“The state of Texas is working to rapidly expand our testing capacity— especially among vulnerable populations in Texas nursing homes,” Abbott said in a statement. “This important collaboration among (the Texas Health and Human Services Commission), (the Texas Division of Emergency Management), and (the Department of State Health Services) will ensure that any potential clusters of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes are quickly detected and contained.”

Abbott announced the disinfection mission May 13 and activated Facilities Disinfection Teams, formed in coordination with the Health and Human Services Commission. Six teams have already been mobilized to nursing homes across the state.

“We take our charge of protecting all Texans, especially our most vulnerable populations, extremely seriously,” said Major Gen. Tracy Norris of the Texas Military Department in a statement released by the governor’s office. “Our service members have proactively trained for this mission alongside the Health and Human Services Commission and other partner agencies.”

Disinfection teams consist of guardsmen from Joint Task Force 176 and are equipped with specialized supplies, such as personal protective equipment, ionized sprayers, and vital oxide. The teams have been trained by the Texas Military Department 6th Civil Support Team, which specializes in man-made and natural disaster assessment.

It’s unclear if or when assisted-living facilities, which differ from nursing homes in the level of care, will be included in the disinfection and testing. However, Rhonda Tedford, executive director of Arbor House Retirement Cottages in Marble Falls thinks it could be soon.

“The state puts on a weekly assisted-living webinar, and that was this past Wednesday,” she said. “On Wednesday, they had not received word from the governor if assisted-living (facilities) would be included. However, I’m anticipating that. (Gov. Abbott) has that press conference (May 18), and I expect that’s when we’re going to hear a few more details about it and whether or not we’re included.”

According to the Texas Health and Human Services website, a nursing home offers full-time care described as “the highest level of care most people will receive outside a hospital.” An assisted-living facility provides care and assistance but not quite at the level of a nursing home. Some assisted-living services include helping a person with dressing or bathing, making sure a resident is taking their medicine, and just checking on people to make sure they’re well.

Last month, Abbott announced that the Texas National Guard had mobilized more than 1,200 personnel as part of 45-member mobile COVID-19 testing teams. Each consists of 11 medical professionals and support staff as well as 34 soldiers. When launched, the Texas National Guard could test 150 people per day at each mobile testing site, according to a statement released by the governor’s office in April.