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Oregon begins COVID-19 testing for all nursing home workers and residents

More than half of all the state’s coronavirus deaths are connected to nursing, assisted living and retirement homes.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon started mandated testing for all workers and residents in large nursing homes on Wednesday. Health officials hope to complete statewide coronavirus testing in more than 680 facilities by Sept. 30, with staff members retested once a month after that. The initial round of testing will require about 60,000 tests, according to state health officials.

Senior homes have been hit especially hard during the pandemic. More than half of all the state’s coronavirus deaths are connected to nursing, assisted living and retirement homes.

Alice Bonner of the Johns Hopkins School of nursing explained baseline testing is a step in the right direction.

“It does help because you find asymptomatic people. You can put interventions like quarantines in place,” said Bonner, who explained ongoing testing is necessary because the pandemic is evolving.

RELATED: 9 residents at Canby long-term care facility have died from COVID-19

Health officials estimate statewide testing will cost about $6 million. Each COVID-19 test costs about $100. According to the state, most testing will be paid for by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.

“I think that’s a great idea. That way you know if you are walking into a hot spot or not,” said Tonya Funderburk of Portland. The long-term care facility worker is supportive of testing but worries if an employee tests positive and is forced to stay home and quarantine.

“You still have to bring home a paycheck at the end of the day,” said Funderburk.

Health officials admit testing alone won’t be enough to allow senior care homes to open up.

“I think it will help mitigate some of the spread but certainly not going to stop it all,” agreed Maureen Schleich, who has a mother in assisted living. Schleich hasn’t seen her 97-year-old mom in person in almost four months because outside visitors are forbidden.

“It’s been hard to not actually see her face and see her, “said Schleich. “Luckily, we have telephones.”

RELATED: 7 Oregon counties will require face masks to be worn indoors beginning today