Preventing COVID-19 Outbreaks in Long-Term Care Facilities Through Preemptive Testing of Residents and Staff Members - Fulton County, Georgia, March-May 2020

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020 Sep 18;69(37):1296-1299. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6937a4.


Long-term care facility (LTCF) residents are at particularly high risk for morbidity and mortality associated with infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), given their age and high prevalence of chronic medical conditions, combined with functional impairment that often requires frequent, close contact with health care providers, who might inadvertently spread the virus to residents (1,2). During March-May 2020 in Fulton County, Georgia, >50% of COVID-19-associated deaths occurred among LTCF residents, although these persons represented <1% of the population (3,4). Mass testing for SARS-CoV-2 has been an effective strategy for identifying asymptomatic and presymptomatic infections in LTCFs (5). This analysis sought to evaluate the timing at which mass testing took place in relation to the known presence of a COVID-19 infection and the resulting number of infections that occurred. In 15 LTCFs that performed facility-wide testing in response to an identified case, high prevalences of additional cases in residents and staff members were found at initial testing (28.0% and 7.4%, respectively), suggesting spread of infection had already occurred by the time the first case was identified. Prevalence was also high during follow-up, with a total of 42.4% of residents and 11.8% of staff members infected overall in the response facilities. In comparison, 13 LTCFs conducted testing as a preventive strategy before a case was identified. Although the majority of these LTCFs identified at least one COVID-19 case, the prevalence was significantly lower at initial testing in both residents and staff members (0.5% and 1.0%, respectively) and overall after follow-up (1.5% and 1.7%, respectively). These findings indicate that early awareness of infections might help facilities prevent potential outbreaks by prioritizing and adhering more strictly to infection prevention and control (IPC) recommendations, resulting in fewer infections than would occur when relying on symptom-based screening (6,7).

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques*
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Georgia / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Residential Facilities / organization & administration*