By Brad McElhinny METRONEWS July 30, 2020

A Princeton nursing home with a coronavirus outbreak says it asked for mass testing of residents and staff early this month, but was denied.

That happened when the nursing home had one case.

“After an employee tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in July, our team requested assistance and mass testing from local and state health officials on and before July 7th, 2020,” the nursing home stated in an update today.

“We were denied the testing and were told, ‘At this time our outbreak guideline does not recommend to do the repeat testing of staff and residents and the state lab would not be able to handle those specimens.'”

Now there are more than 30 active cases and at least two deaths at Princeton Health Care Center, where there are 91 residents.

Residents with confirmed or suspected covid are being isolated to separate care areas with care from dedicated staff members.

Leaders at the nursing home responded to a telephone call by MetroNews by declining to comment further.

The health officer for Mercer County, Kathleen Wides, acknowledged in a telephone interview that the nursing home had been denied mass testing.

But Wides said that was because of state policy.

“The local health department, we follow what the state tells us to do. We’re a small health department,” Wides said in a telephone interview.

“We would not have refused to help the mass testing. We don’t have resources to do that kind of mass testing. At that point, an outbreak was defined as two people. They had one person.”

Wides described that standard as flawed.

“I will go out on a limb and say I disagree with that state standard,” she said.

“If you’re a nursing home and you have one person, that’s a serious situation. It is up to the state to determine when the trigger is pulled for mass testing. I wish it had happened a different way. It was, at the time, the state’s decision. It’s never the local health department’s decision.”

The request at the Princeton nursing home came after the forced resignation of State Health Officer Cathy Slemp on June 24 and days prior to a new state health officer, Ayne Amjad, being named on July 10.

The Department of Health and Human Resources, in a statement released today, said state officials became aware of an initial outbreak at the Princeton nursing home on June 30.

The state agency reached out, “and the nursing home confirmed that they had made arrangements for facility-wide testing of residents and staff. The nursing home advised they had the swab kits available for the testing and that LabCorp would be doing the testing of the samples.”

Administrators at the nursing home, in their own statement today, said they tried to take testing into their own hands but couldn’t.

“Our team called other labs to try to secure mass testing as well,” administrator Stefanie Compton wrote in a news release.

“We were unable to do the testing on our own because the labs in our area/state were backlogged and they at that time did not have the supplies that were needed.”

So the initial call for help with mass testing appears to have fallen between the cracks.

When the nursing home identified its second case on July 7, DHHR said, the state had not yet initiated weekly testing. The new policy change became effective on July 16.

A day after that, July 17, the nursing home notified the state of two residents testing positive, asking for more help with testing.

“That same day, DHHR Health Command coordinated the 2nd round of facility-wide testing,” according to the state agency. By then, more than two weeks had passed since the first call for help. And 10 days had passed since the second plea.

Gov. Jim Justice has described an aggressive attitude toward nursing homes, ordering on April 17 all nursing home residents and staff to be tested.

He has repeatedly praised the action, calling West Virginia a leader among the states.

Although West Virginia has experienced several nursing home outbreaks, like those across the nation, the overall positivity rate in nursing homes here has remained low — .19 percent through the end of last week compared to the state’s overall 2.28 percent.

Justice talked specifically about the Princeton nursing home during a briefing on Wednesday, describing quick action.

“At the Princeton nursing home, when we first were notified, we ran straight to the fire,” Justice said. “We tested everybody there.”

He added, “We now are going back and retesting because we now have had two people, that quickly, die. That quickly. Now we have got to realize that this thing is a killer. It especially attacks our older people.”

Princeton Health Care Center, at its latest update, said members of the West Virginia National Guard have been on site to help with testing and training.

The facility has suspended on-site visitation, while still encouraging video conferencing, phone calls and letters. Admissions remain on hold indefinitely.

The nursing home has started its fourth total round of mass testing and expects that to be complete by Friday. Administrators said results usually arrive within three to five days.

Another round of testing is expected next week.

“We appreciate the ongoing support, prayers and understanding as we work through this process,” the nursing home wrote.

Another West Virginia nursing home also has an outbreak.

Grant County Rehabilitation and Care Center started a second round of testing after 19 residents and eight staff were initially diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Grant County Health Department Administrator Sandy Glasscock described a lag in testing results. She said testing occurred last Wednesday and Thursday with results coming back Monday evening.

“We have to wait,” she said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline. “And that makes it very difficult to be ahead of the curve. If it’s a staff member and they’re out in the community they could still be exposing other people if they’re positive. So that makes it difficult to track and prevent.”