Because of recent COVID-19 spikes around the nation, the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living are warning of what they describe as imminent outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

According to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, proactive steps have been taken to protect the state’s most vulnerable population and their caregivers from any future surges.

Gov. Phil Murphy said everything possible has been done to ramp up protections for nursing homes.

“We’re as ready as any state in America,” he said. “But while we hope for the best we’re going to continue to prepare for the worst.”

The Murphy administration has faced heat over the number of deaths at nursing homes, which account for half of the state's 13,700 deaths since March.

More than 30 million units of personal protective equipment have been distributed to long-term care facilities over the past four months. The facilities continue to stockpile supplies.

Persichilli on Wednesday said that universal masking rules, curtailed visitations and strict screening protocols remain in effect, and the development of a comprehensive testing plan for long-term care residents and staff has been completed.

She noted right now the positivity rate for both groups is less than 1% but re-testing continues for residents and staff who have already tested negative for the virus.

She also pointed out several new initiatives are moving forward to strengthen long-term care resiliency, including the creation of a long-term care emergency operations center to monitor and respond to changes.

Persichilli said the emergency operations center will also stay in contact with the state Office of Emergency Management to make sure staff shortages are immediately identified.

Murphy also noted because of the spike in COVID cases and testing in other states, it’s taking longer to get test results back from nursing homes.

Persichilli said the department has also completed infection control focused surveys in 449 facilities, including 369 nursing homes, 46 assisted living centers, six dementia care homes, two specialty hospitals 17 renal dialysis centers, five ambulatory surgery centers and four acute care hospitals, and follow-up inspections are underway.

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