Purpose: Residents in nursing homes for the elderly (NH) are at high risk for death from COVID-19. We investigated whether repeated non-mandatory RT-PCR SARS-CoV-2 surveillance of NH staff and visitors reduces COVID-19 incidence rates in NH residents and allows to reduce visiting restrictions.
Methods: This pilot study at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic compared a surveillance approach of regular, twice-weekly voluntary PCR testing of health-care workers (HCW) and visitors in interventional NH (INH) with a setting without regular testing in control NH (CNH). Residents were not tested routinely within this study. Testing was performed in a mobile testing site with same-day result reporting. SARS-CoV-2 incidence among residents in both INH and CNH was the primary endpoint; secondary endpoints being SARS-CoV-2 infection among visitors and HCW in INH.
Results: Two INH and two CNH participated between October and December, 2020. At INH1, 787 tests of HCW and 350 tests of visitors were performed, accounting for 18.1% (n = 1930) of visits. At INH2, 78 tests of HCW and 372 tests of visitors were done, i.e., 30.5% (n = 1220) of visits. At the two INH 23 HCW and three visitors tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 outbreaks occurred among residents in INH1 (identified through study testing) and in CNH1. Utilization of voluntary testing was low.
Conclusion: In a real-world setting without available rapid testing, voluntary RT-PCR SARS-CoV-2 testing of HCW and visitors does not prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in NH. Complete, non-selective testing for these groups should be instituted before visiting restrictions can be reduced.
Trial registration: The study has been registered at ClinicalTrials.gov with the identifier: NCT04933981.
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; Nursing home; SARS-CoV-2 transmission; Surveillance; Testing on site.
© 2021. The Author(s).