HARLINGEN — A state-funded testing program will help Cameron County’s nursing homes confirm their patients and employees are clear of the coronavirus, the city’s public health director said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the program launched by Gov. Greg Abbott and the state health department completed testing about 10 nursing homes and retirement centers.

Across Texas, the program offered three options — tests conducted by the state’s National Guard, nursing homes or counties, Jeff Tait, Retama Manor’s senior administrator, said.

Last month, Cameron County officials decided to contract with Valley Medical Urgent Care and CPL Laboratories to receive rapid test results, Melissa Elizardi, spokeswoman for County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.’s office, said.

“It was in the public’s best interest to have a quick turn-around date,” she said.

While the state takes up to 20 days to release test results, the lab provides results in 24 to 48 hours, she said.

As of Tuesday, the county had spent about $211,000 to conduct tests, each costing $110, Elizardi said.

As part of an agreement, she said, the state will reimburse the county.

Tait said the county selected the most cost-efficient testing method.

“There was a lot of speculation. What’s the most cost-effective way?” Tait said. “I think the county came together and made the right decision.”

Testing asymptomatic patients, staff

The tests will help nursing homes double-check their patients and staff — including those who might not show symptoms, Josh Ramirez, Harlingen’s public health director, said.

“Most of the folks who were tested in the beginning were symptomatic,” he said. “There was concern there were asymptomatic people testing positive. There were some folks who weren’t showing symptoms. That could be something happening in the nursing homes.”

Second line of defense

In Harlingen, administrators at nursing homes and retirement centers said they had previously tested all their patients and staff.

At Retama Manor, Tait said the nursing home tests incoming residents, residents and staff displaying symptoms and patients transferring from hospitals.

“My expectations are that the results will provide us with information on the COVID-19 positive/negative status of our team and our residents as of the testing date and will allow us to respond in a way consistent with the promotion and protection of the health and safety of our Veranda community as a whole,” Jason Hess, administrator at Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare, stated.

At Golden Palms Rehabilitation and Retirement, the state program offers a second line of defense.

“Although there is a separate testing process for residents newly admitted to the skilled nursing unit in the facility, the primary form of testing prior to this time was performed in response to the development of signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” Administrator Brad Edmunds stated.

“We understand the fact that more testing could produce additional positive results from asymptomatic residents and staff and recognize that COVID-19 in the outside community can make its way inside the facility notwithstanding our relentless commitment to infection prevention and control.”

At Windsor Atrium and Harlingen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the state tests could help the nursing homes identify patients and staff who don’t show symptoms, Brooke Ladner, senior vice president for business development with parent company Regency Integrated Health Services, stated.

“Windsor Atrium had completed testing 100 percent of its staff and residents at the facility before the state order was put into place therefore additional testing was not an option,” she stated. “We firmly believe testing is the best line of defense to combating COVID 19 inside healthcare facilities as it helps us identify patients and staff members who may be asymptomatic.”

Outbreaks

In Cameron County, three nursing homes continue to work to control COVID-19 outbreaks.

In April, a county investigation found a health care worker carried the coronavirus into Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare before taking it to Windsor Atrium.

At Veranda, 61 residents and 32 employees have tested positive for the virus while 11 have died as of Tuesday, according to Treviño’s office.

Meanwhile, at Windsor Atrium 61 residents and 39 employees have tested positive while 16 have died, Treviño’s office stated in a press release.

Last month, Spanish Meadows in Brownsville became the scene of an outbreak after a hospital transferred a patient without symptoms to the nursing home, where the patient tested positive for the virus before being taken back to the hospital.

As of Tuesday, 11 residents and six employees had tested positive for the virus, Treviño’s office stated.

In April, the Harlingen outbreaks led Treviño to issue an emergency management order aimed at setting nursing home procedures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

Days earlier, Dr. Michael Mohan, Harlingen’s newly appointed health authority, issued orders prohibiting the city’s nursing homes and rehabilitation centers from sharing health care staff and transferring residents to other facilities.