Detroit battles coronavirus crisis in nursing homes with rapid testing



The highly contagious coronavirus has taken root in all 27 nursing homes in Detroit, where elderly residents with underlying health conditions live in close proximity to each other.

As of Monday, 26 nursing home residents in Detroit have died from the coronavirus, and hundreds more are likely infected.

“We have a crisis in our nursing homes,” Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday. “It’s a real source of concern.”

The city would not provide Metro Times with an update on the number of infections and deaths at nursing homes. While some states disclose COVID-19's impact on nursing homes, Michigan is not one of them. But state health officials tell Metro Times that Michigan plans to soon release information on "outbreaks" at nursing homes.

Beginning last week, Detroit launched a unique and aggressive plan to test all nursing home residents and staff, whether they are symptomatic or not. Using testing kits that produce results within 15 minutes, the city is able to quickly identify who is infected and needs to be isolated.

Of the 420 residents and staff tested so far, 35% have tested positive for the coronavirus. At one nursing home, 50% of the residents were infected. Many of them had no idea they were infected until they were tested.

“Right now our biggest concern on the coronavirus in this city are our patients in the nursing homes, and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to protect them,” Duggan said Thursday.

The city plans to test about 2,000 more nursing home residents and staff over the next 10 days. After the tests are administered, rapid response teams are following up to make sure infected residents are being isolated and that nursing homes have sufficient personal protective equipment and are following federal guidelines to help combat the spread of the disease.

“We are going to be absolutely certain that the patients are properly separated,” Duggan said. “I’m going to start dealing with some of these nursing home directors myself if we don’t see a significant commitment in keeping patients well.”

The testing is critical because many nursing home residents have underlying health conditions and don’t find out quickly enough if they are infected, says Dr. Teena Chopra, an infectious disease specialist at Wayne State University and Detroit Medical Center.

“These nursing home patients are coming to our hospitals, and the ones who are dying are dying quickly because physicians have very little time to save them because they are already in a severe state,” Chopra tells Metro Times.

Denise Fair, the city’s public health director, said the city’s testing plan “is really aggressive” because nursing home residents are especially vulnerable.

“Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart disease or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at a higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19,” Fair said.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began last month, Detroit has reported 538 deaths and more than 7,300 confirmed infections. Already, the coronavirus killed more people in Detroit than the past two years of homicides.

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