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Mandatory testing turned up something one nursing home did not expect

One in three of the positive cases – about a half dozen people – were asymptomatic and were unknowingly spreading the virus.

DALLAS — The state has embarked on a herculean effort to test more than 230,000 residents and staff at Texas’ 1,224 licensed nursing homes by the end of the month.

“This disease is like no other we’ve treated before. No one presents with the classic signs and symptoms,” said Ashley Green, a registered nurse at Presbyterian Village North in Dallas. 

The senior care facility where she works started testing about a month before the governor ordered it.

“We’ve been testing since mid-April,” said CEO Tim Mallad.

To date, Presbyterian Village North has tested 922 residents and staff.

Of that population, 20 tests came back positive; 11 were employees and nine were residents.

RELATED: LIST: These are the positive cases of coronavirus at North Texas nursing homes and state-supported living centers

Since then, six of the 20 people have already recovered.

“It’s kind of scary for all staff members. I became a nurse 12 years ago. I knew I’d be challenged, but nothing compared to this,” Green, 33, added.

But here’s what Presbyterian Village did not expect. One in three of the positive cases – about a half dozen people – were asymptomatic and were unknowingly spreading the virus. The mandatory tests identified them so nurses could isolate them and stop the spread.

“Right now, I’d say only 25 percent of nursing homes in Texas have had a case. So, 75 percent don’t know,” said George Linial, president and CEO of Leading Age Texas, a senior advocacy group. 

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services said there are about 80,000 nursing home residents in Texas and 150,000 employees to test before the end of the month.

The goal of the mandatory tests is to reduce deaths. Right now, 40% of all coronavirus deaths in Texas have happened at nursing homes.

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“There’s a lot of cases that have been spread by asymptomatic people – primarily staff people who don’t exhibit any symptoms,” Linial added.

Texas Health and Human Services says it does not know how many other facilities might have started their own testing. It is expensive, though. Presbyterian Village North has spent about $150,000 on it so far. Each facility will have to pay for the state-ordered tests and then ask for a reimbursement.

“We’re going to continue to test. We’re not finished by any means. I think we got a good baseline now – that’s what we wanted,” Mallad said.

Presbyterian Village North now has a starting point. It’s a position that few other places are in and a model for what those might expect.

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