New Jersey's 26th Legislative District

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Pennacchio Calls on Health Commissioner to Approve Rapid Results COVID Test to Protect Nursing Homes from Virus

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Says State Department of Health Not Serving Governor Well

An affordable COVID test that produces results in minutes is available, and according to a published report, nursing homes would like to use it to test people coming into the facilities. Administrators, however, say the state will not allow it.

Senator Pennacchio said nursing homes should be allowed to use an affordable COVID rapid response test to screen nursing home visitors and protect vulnerable residents. (Flickr)

“It’s frustrating,” said Senator Joe Pennacchio, an out-spoken critic of the Murphy Administration’s nursing home policies that contributed to the loss of more than 7,000 senior residents of long-term care locations. “The state is concerned about the accuracy of these tests, but this could have implications for the entire state if it turns out to be reliable.”

Pennacchio is proposing a pilot program through the New Jersey Department of Health that would compare traditional test results with the rapid response antigen method at a select number of nursing homes.

“This is a possible game-changer, and there is nothing to lose by rolling it out and studying its effectiveness,” said Pennacchio. “The use of a reliable antigen test could be expanded to schools and hospitals, and we could lift the quarantine and restrictions on business.”

To allay the state’s concerns about test accuracy, under the pilot program, someone testing positive with the rapid test would be retested with the reliable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

“It’s a common-sense solution. Try it in a few facilities using the rapid-response test and the conventional test,” said Pennacchio. “Do it for a few weeks and compare the results. It could help stop the virus at the door and save lives inside the facilities.”

Use of the tests at facilities would allow real-time screening of visitors and workers, something administrators contend would strengthen the protection of vulnerable residents.

“The bureaucratic paralysis at the Department of Health is troublesome,” Pennacchio said. “I am disappointed the health department hasn’t already introduced guidelines for the use of the rapid test. How can they justify doing nothing when this test is ready to go?”

The news report published Monday on NJ.com, cited facility administrators’ frustrations that “nursing homes are not permitted to test state inspectors entering their facilities.” While onsite, the inspectors interact with elderly residents.

In addition, homes are not permitted to require testing of family members designated as “essential caregivers” who are now granted access for visits.

“These examples represent obvious weaknesses that expose residents to infection,” said Pennacchio. “The rapid test should be used to strengthen protections without pain or inconvenience for the visitors. We know what happens when COVID is introduced into facilities full of vulnerable senior citizens.”

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