Temperature in Nursing Home Residents Systematically Tested for SARS-CoV-2

J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2020 Jul;21(7):895-899.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2020.06.009. Epub 2020 Jun 9.


Objectives: Many nursing home residents infected with SARS-CoV-2 fail to be identified with standard screening for the associated COVID-19 syndrome. Current nursing home COVID-19 screening guidance includes assessment for fever, defined as a temperature of at least 38.0°C. The objective of this study was to describe the temperature changes before and after universal testing for SARS-CoV-2 in nursing home residents.

Design: Cohort study.

Setting and participants: The Veterans Administration (VA) operates 134 Community Living Centers (CLC), similar to nursing homes, that house residents who cannot live independently. VA guidance to CLCs directed daily clinical screening for COVID-19 that included temperature assessment.

Measures: All CLC residents (n = 7325) underwent SARS-CoV-2 testing. We report the temperature in the window of 14 days before and after universal SARS-CoV-2 testing among CLC residents. Baseline temperature was calculated for 5 days before the study window.

Results: SARS-CoV-2 was identified in 443 (6.0%) residents. The average maximum temperature in SARS-CoV-2-positive residents was 37.66 (0.69) compared with 37.11 (0.36) (P = .001) in SARS-CoV-2-negative residents. Temperatures in those with SARS-CoV-2 began rising 7 days before testing and remained elevated during the 14-day follow-up. Among SARS-CoV-2-positive residents, only 26.6% (n = 118) met the fever threshold of 38.0°C during the survey period. Most residents (62.5%, n = 277) with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 did experience 2 or more 0.5°C elevations above their baseline values. One cohort of SARS-CoV-2 residents' (20.3%, n = 90) temperatures never deviated >0.5°C from baseline.

Conclusions and implications: A single screening for temperature is unlikely to detect nursing home residents with SARS-CoV-2. Repeated temperature measurement with a patient-derived baseline can increase sensitivity. The current fever threshold as a screening criteria for SARS-CoV-2 infection should be reconsidered.

Keywords: Infection; nursing home; temperature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / methods
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Fever / diagnosis*
  • Fever / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infection Control
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Nursing Homes / organization & administration*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities / organization & administration*
  • Thermometers / statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Veterans