These are challenging times for assisted living facilities and nursing homes as they battle a pandemic while trying to keep their residents and staff as safe as possible.

They should be commended for the actions they’ve taken, the precautions they’ve put in place and their ability to stave off “caution fatigue” that has set in across the state and nation. Caution fatigue happens when people show low motivation or energy to comply with safety guidelines such as social distancing, wearing masks and repeated handwashing.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are now into their 16th week of dealing with COVID-19 and adhering to the strict but necessary guidelines from the health department.

But now they face yet another hurdle – the long wait for labs to process COVID-19 tests of their staff and residents.

A new survey conducted by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living shows that the amount of time it is taking labs to process the tests is becoming a major concern.

Key findings of the survey:

  • 56 percent of nursing homes and assisted living communities said lab processing was the top barrier for access to testing. (Top issue now is access to testing; cost of testing is the second major barrier.)

  • Nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) nursing homes and assisted living communities said obtaining test results back from the lab companies is taking two days or longer. (63 percent – two to four days; 24 percent – five days or more)

With studies from Harvard Medical School and Brown University showing the level of infection in a surrounding community of a nursing home as the top precursor to an outbreak at a facility, these new survey results on testing are very concerning, according to the American Health Care Association.

If the amount of time to process tests of nursing home and assisted living residents and staff isn’t troubling enough, the recent sharp uptick of cases in many states could overwhelm labs and increase the amount of time it takes long term care providers to obtain regular test results – which is key to preventing outbreaks, said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

“The amount of time it is taking to receive testing results is hurting the ability of long term facilities to fight the virus,” Parkinson said. “Regular testing of nursing home and assisted living staff is a vital step in controlling the spread of COVID-19, but is not effective without obtaining timely test results.”

Parkinson added that for nursing homes and assisted living communities to protect residents and staff, they need on-site testing with reliable and rapid results.

Going forward, this should be a priority in the battle against COVID-19 for the safety of nursing home staff and the residents living there. Nursing homes are on the front lines and deserve all the support they can get.

This editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of the Alexandria Echo Press.