‘I didn’t want to turn anyone away’: COVID-19 test shortage impacts nursing homes

photo of a rapid covid test
Anthony Angel Perez/Senior Staff
With a shortage of COVID-19 tests, many nursing homes — such as Chapparal House in Berkeley, which requires a negative test within 48 hours of visitng — are facing difficulties.

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As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country, scarce testing supplies have left nursing homes struggling to accommodate visitors.

In Berkeley, Chaparral House requires all visitors to show a negative COVID-19 test, according to Chaparral House administrator KJ Page. With 38 residents, Chaparral House sees about 10 daily visitors and 20 to 30 weekly visitors.

“We have families that are having a very hard time getting their testing materials because they have to test within 48 hours of a visit,” Page said. “They’re having an impossible time finding the test kits.”

While Chaparral House has experienced test kit shortages with six months of supplies on back-order, it now has enough for its needs after the arrival of some shipments, according to Page. In spite of the national shortage of COVID-19 tests, Chaparral House has also managed to continue accommodating visitors through methods such as video calling and window visits.

These alternative visiting options have come in handy, according to Page. A resident’s 100th birthday party was held for those close to the resident in person, and the rest of the visitors attended via Zoom.

For residents’ family members and friends who are unable to use alternative visiting options or find tests in time, the nursing home provides some on-site tests.

“I didn’t want to turn anyone away,” Page said. “Our residents are so fragile. It’s so important to have family with them for a number of reasons.”

With 92 staff members required to test twice a week and 38 residents who must be tested once a week, Page noted the nursing home could only offer tests to residents’ close loved ones since they don’t have enough tests for all visitors.

Page said organizing visitation around COVID-19 has been a “logistical nightmare” as they had to schedule visits, vacate designated spaces for residents and visitors and ensure that visiting opportunities were fair to all residents. For instance, even though some residents share rooms, roommates must vacate their rooms before visitors can come in.

COVID-19 has also caused a staff shortage at Chaparral House, with a recent outbreak causing four staff members to quarantine, according to Page. The staff shortage presented another obstacle to visitation in that the nursing home is unable to constantly conduct visitors’ COVID-19 tests.

Page noted that everyone at Chaparral House has received vaccinations and boosters.

“We’re really fortunate most of our families understand (our COVID-19 policies), and they’re working with us,” Page said. “We haven’t had to say no to anybody.”

Contact Cindy Liu at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @_CindyLiu_.