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CSU to begin COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic health care workers, nursing home residents

nasal swab tube of jared polis, stephanie campbell, r m
Posted at 11:37 AM, May 21, 2020

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Scientists at Colorado State University will conduct novel coronavirus (COVID-19) testing for workers and residents at up to 30 nursing facilities across the state in an effort to identify asymptomatic individuals.

This project, which is between CSU and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), will be essential in preventing outbreaks because some people who don’t show symptoms of COVID-19 test positive for it, said Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer for CDPHE.

Based on a CSU pilot project from earlier this year, researchers found that of the 454 nursing home workers who were tested for COVID-19 in March and April, 13.1%, or 60 individuals, tested positive but did not show any symptoms.

As part of this new, upcoming project, which will last through Sept. 1, CSU will receive $4.2 million, a majority of which will go to testing asymptomatic workers — with their consent — using nasopharyngeal swabs, according to CSU.

Dr. Nicole Ehrhart, director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging at CSU, said there’s a surprising number of people who never exhibit symptoms and those asymptomatic individuals can be infectious to others.

“It’s important that when there’s a community at higher risk for severe illness, like seniors, that we think about how to identify and mitigate the hidden potential for transmission to protect these vulnerable individuals,” Ehrhart said.

In Colorado, more than 50% of COVID-19 related deaths have been among older adults or people with disabilities who live in group-like settings, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities, according to CSU.

CSU and state officials will work together to identify the facilities that have the highest need for surveillance testing. Each location will receive eight weeks of testing for up to a statewide total of 45,000 workers and residents, according to CSU. The results will serve as an early warning system if the virus is present in that facility.

The tests will be processed at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at CSU. The lab joins the growing national trend of animal health laboratories helping test for COVID-19 in people.

The lab received a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certification in April so it could analyze human tests. This came in partnership with CSU’s Health and Medical Center. Dr. Kristy Pabilonia, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, said her team has the capacity to test large numbers of samples.

CSU said the laboratory will provide a report to the state by the end of September, with interim reports along the way.

This project is an initiative of the COVID-19 Residential Care Task Force, which was launched by the Colorado Unified Command Center to help reduce the spread of illnesses and deaths at places like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.