McClure currently is running a Covid-19 testing program with Easton Hospital for any county resident who exhibits a symptom. As of Friday, 888 tests have been conducted on Northampton County residents who claim to have one symptom of the virus.
But are the right people being tested?
Given that most of the cases and deaths have been at long-term care facilities, it would make sense to focus testing there. In fact, during a conference call the White House had with state governors on May 11, they were strongly urged to test everyone who works for or resides at a nursing home. "Start now," said VP Michael Pence.
But two weeks later, Pennsylvania still has failed to begin proactive testing at nursing homes, including Grtacedale. Providers, i.e. doctors prefer instead to abide by CDC guidelines that were more relevant when test kits were in short supply.
The result has been a sad rise in the death toll.
On Sunday's This Week, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx discussed the importance of proactive testing at nursing homes:
"We have been working with every county and state and local official, both through the CDC and through the governors, through the governors' calls, to really encourage proactive testing.At Thursday night's County Council meeting, McClure said testing was going to become more aggressive in the days ahead. Testing and tracing has been recognized as perhaps the most effective tool in combating Covid-19, but the Trump administration initially underplayed this pandemic and actually botched initial test kits. It was woefully slow in ramping up production. Finally, by mid-May, about three percent of the US population had been tested.
"So, some of this is increased testing in areas where we know are the highest risk, whether it's nursing homes, whether it's areas where people work and sleep and stay together or transport together, and really getting proactive testing out there to find cases before there's community spread."
Testing, however, has been reactive and focused on the very sick. By more proactive testing, asymptomatic people can be identified before they unwittingly spread the virus to others. This ultimately leads to a decline in positive tests.
In the meantime, families unable to visit husbands, wives, fathers and mothers are becoming frustrated.
A woman named Diana spoke at Thursday night's Northampton County Council meeting. Her husband is a resident there, and unfortunately, is a victim of Alzheimer's disease. She, along with the families of Gracedale's other 600 residents, has been unable to connect with her spouse since March 12, when Executive Lamont McClure placed barred all outside visits, even volunteers. This decision was motivated by a desire to protect at-risk residents from silent spreaders, which ironically could be the persons who love them most.
"I understand there's a pandemic, but dementia people do not," she said. "We should have been allowed to explain to our loved one why they won't see us for awhile." She fed her husband lunch and dinner every day, and he has lost 45 pounds since family visits were stopped. When she asked if she'd be notified if her husband starts showing symptoms, she states a male nurse "sarcastically" replied that would be "up to the doctor to do or we would be on the phone all damn day." She purchased a tablet herself, yet it took three weeks for it to make its way to her husband's area, Tower Three. She wants to see her husband, and suggested that now that the weather is getting warmer, she should be allowed to visit with him outside. She had kind words for most of the staff, but not the administration and "higher ups."
Jackie spoke of her 85 year-old mother, who graduated third in her class at Easton High School and was the church organist at St. Anthony's for 40 years. Now suffering from dementia, she plays at Gracedale. "She is my hero," said Jackie, acknowledging the decision to place her in Gracedale's dementia unit was "heart wrenching," but that it quickly became a new family. She ticked off the names of staff members - Ange, Doug, John, Pirate Ryan, Dago, Jim, Serena - who have been "phenomenal with her mom." But a "weeping staff member" informed Jackie as her mother was wheeled to a different floor. "She was packed up like a box," complained Jackie, who said that family visitors could have helped at least prepare her mother for the move.