Kansas nursing homes now have a COVID metric from the KDHE

Kansas nursing homes now have a metric for the coronavirus pandemic that is used to determine how often staff should be tested for COVID-19.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s online COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday displayed a tab with “nursing home metrics: 14-day percent positivity.” The statistics are connected to a rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, that requires routine testing of staff, depending on a community indicator.

“Routine testing should be based on the extent of the virus in the community, therefore facilities should use their county positivity rate in the prior week as the trigger for staff testing frequency,” David Wright, the director of the Quality and Safety Oversight Group, said in an Aug. 26 memo from the CMS.

Facilities in a county with low community activity, defined as a positive test rate below 5%, are required to test staff at least once a month. Residents are not included in the required routine testing.

Medium activity is between 5% and 10% while high activity is above 10%. Facilities in counties with medium activity must test at least once a week. That increases to twice a week for counties with high activity.

The rule is “aimed at preventing COVID-19 from entering nursing homes, detecting cases quickly, and stopping transmission,” Wright said. “Swift identification of confirmed COVID-19 cases allows the facility to take immediate action to remove exposure risks to nursing home residents and staff.”

The KDHE metric features a color-coded map of Kansas counties with the positive test rate for the 14-day period starting Sept. 13. Green represents low activity, yellow represents medium and red represents high. The Kansas metric also factors in low levels of testing compared to population, allowing some counties to stay in the green or yellow zone even if their positivity rate is above 10%.

In the Wichita area, Sedgwick, Reno, Sumner and Kingman counties are in the yellow zone, which means their long-term care facilities must test staff once a week. Butler, Harvey and Cowley counties are in the green zone, so their facilities only have to test once a month.

The color zones for the positive test rates differ from the gating criteria for Kansas schools.

Kansas has 23 of 105 counties in the red zone of the nursing home metric. All but five are in the western half of the state.

Nursing homes and other care facilities have had the deadliest coronavirus clusters in Kansas. The 226 outbreaks of COVID-19 at the facilities have lead to 3,099 cases, 416 hospitalizations and 368 deaths. Just over half of the 723 deaths in Kansas have been tied to a nursing home cluster.

The testing guidance allows nursing homes to use rapid tests. Kansas expects to receive 870,000 rapid COVID-19 tests from the federal government.

“As we implement our unified testing strategy, these newly available tests will support our efforts to protect Kansans in nursing homes, schools and correctional facilities,” Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday.

On Wednesday, the KDHE reported a total of 63,952 cases, 3,121 hospitalizations and 723 deaths from COVID-19. Those were increases of 1,244 cases, 85 hospitalizations and 17 deaths since Monday.

Sedgwick County has had 9,599 total cases, which was an increase of 90 over two days.

The state health department also released an updated list of active clusters, though most did not meet the criteria to be identified. It included five in the Wichita area. Only 38 of the 225 active outbreaks were named.

In Sedgwick County, Derby High School has an outbreak with nine cases in the last two weeks. In Harvey County, a cluster at Bethel College has had five cases in the past two weeks.

Prisons in Butler and Reno counties also made the list. El Dorado Correctional Facility has had 12 cases in the past two weeks while Hutchinson Correctional Facility has had 32.

Mennonite Friendship Communities, a long-term care facility in South Hutchinson, also made the list with 26 cases in the past two weeks.

There have been 753 total clusters in Kansas, accounting for 14,349 cases, 769 hospitalizations and 431 deaths. There were 46 new clusters reported over the past week.

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Jason Tidd is a reporter at The Wichita Eagle covering breaking news, crime and courts.

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