The entrance to Central Gardens Convalescent Hospital on Ellis Street in the Western Addition, where 67 people had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday, April 24, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City now requiring COVID-19 testing for all residents, staff at skilled nursing facilities

After outbreaks at two skilled nursing facilities, San Francisco is now requiring all residents and staff at such facilities in the city to undergo testing for the novel coronavirus, Mayor London Breed announced Friday.

The new directive is part of expanded testing efforts happening in the city, and will affect staff and residents at 21 nursing facilities are starting next week.

The city aims to create a two-week testing cycle after the first round of tests are completed, according to the office of Mayor London Breed.

Testing at the facilities, which is being spearheaded by the city’s Department of Public Health, also comes with a new set of protocols on outbreak preparedness and response following a COVID-19 outbreak at Laguna Honda Hospital in March, which has resulted in at least 21 positive cases.

Another outbreak at Central Gardens Convalescent Hospital, a skilled nursing facility in the Western Addition, resulted in four deaths and at least 67 people testing positive.

“Since this public health emergency began, protecting vulnerable populations living in skilled nursing facilities has been one of our top priorities,” Breed said in a statement.

“We responded quickly to the outbreak at Laguna Honda, and we’ve learned a lot during our ongoing response that can help the other skilled nursing facilities in the city. Complete testing of staff and residents in all of San Francisco’s skilled nursing facilities is the next step in our commitment to vulnerable populations and universal access to testing,” she said.

“Our vision is to have universal access to testing for all in San Francisco,” Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax said.

“To get there, we have continually expanded testing, based on where the need is greatest, and the availability of resources. We have focused first on mitigating outbreaks, protecting vulnerable populations, following case contact investigations and testing of frontline workers. As we have made progress in those areas, we grew to test everyone with symptoms, and we are expanding again. Testing asymptomatic residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities is a decisive move to protect these most vulnerable people, and their caregivers, who are at high risk of an outbreak,” he said.

The COVID-19 testing will start at Laguna Honda Hospital and, once all facilities have been tested, the program aims to establish a regular cycle of testing about every two weeks.

The expanded testing is consistent with new guidelines from the California Department of Public Health that includes screening of asymptomatic residents and workers at congregate living sites like skilled nursing facilities. As the city expands testing further, it will add other congregate settings in the future, like homeless shelters.

In addition to testing skilled nursing facility residents and staff, the city last month began testing frontline workers and essential workers with symptoms, as well as establishing a total of 26 testing sites across the city, including sites for residents who don’t have health insurance.

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