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All rest homes to be tested by mid-May

Covid-19 tests of residents and staff at the island's 21 nursing homes will be completed by mid-May, the health minister promised last night.

Kim Wilson said that five homes had already been tested, including the two that have had outbreaks of the coronavirus, as part of a “very robust schedule for testing”.

She added testing at the other 16 was expected to be carried out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with retesting of some homes which have already been screened.

That includes the Matilda Smith Williams Seniors Residence in Devonshire, which has had 27 Covid-19 cases linked to it.

Ms Wilson said: “There is evidence to suggest that there may be a need to retest on seven days ... which is why it will take a little bit longer than we would have liked, obviously, but we have to test and retest.”

She was speaking after the head of one of the homes with a Covid-19 outbreak urged the Government to conduct immediate tests on all care home residents and staff to avoid further spread of the coronavirus.

Barbara Lee, chairwoman of Westmeath Residential and Nursing Home's board of trustees, warned: “All you need is one to pop up at Packwood or another home and you have got a can of worms again.

“One case in there is all it takes.

“I would have thought with everything they went through with Westmeath, they would have to protect themselves.”

Westmeath, the island's largest rest home, was found to have 13 cases of Covid-19 after tests on the residents and staff last week.

A resident of the home died of the disease at the weekend. A resident who tested positive at the Matilda Smith Williams Home also died.

Mrs Lee asked: “What about the other rest homes?

“The other big ones — Lefroy House, Sylvia Richardson, Packwood and Lorraine. They should have zoomed right into those guys.

“They have a lot of staff that interacted.

“We have people that have worked at Lorraine and work at Westmeath.”

Ms Wilson said on Monday that health officials were testing rest home residents and staff, with priority based on risk factors.

She would not identify the other homes which had been tested.

A health ministry spokeswoman said yesterday: “You can appreciate that it takes some coordination with the homes, their doctors and our staff, but we are prioritising these as testing sites and have developed a roll-out for testing.”

Westmeath's first positive case, a nurse, was identified on April 10.

David Burt, the Premier, told a press conference the day before that he had issued a directive for all affected homes to be tested.

There was no public announcement of Westmeath's first case and testing of everyone at the home did not happen then or after a second case, also a nurse, was identified on April 14.

Mr Burt has since said the decision not to test at the home was “regrettable”.

The Ministry of Health announced the first three cases after a Westmeath resident tested positive for the coronavirus on April 20.

Ms Wilson and Cheryl Peek-Ball, the Chief Medical Officer, insisted the first Westmeath case did not warrant blanket tests.

The health minister said on Monday that she “perhaps ... didn't make clear” earlier that there were not enough swabs available on April 10 to screen everyone at the home.

Mr Burt said a consignment of swabs arrived on April 15.

Ms Wilson said: “We had to choose between testing symptomatic individuals elsewhere and asymptomatic individuals at Westmeath.”

Mrs Lee questioned why all those in the six government quarantine centres were tested on April 19, before testing of everyone at Westmeath on April 22.

She said: “They went and they tested the people in the government facilities to be able to release them. They didn't get to us until the 22nd.”

But the ministry spokeswoman said: “Priority was not given to those in quarantine.”

Ms Wilson said last night the Government decided from a “policy point of view” to test everyone at the quarantine centres before they could leave the centres “principally for the protection of all”.

Dr Peek-Ball added that the “tipping point” for testing everyone at Westmeath was when the resident tested positive and “there was a clear case of transmission within the facility”.

She said: “Before there is sign of spread within the facility, one can make some very practical decisions around how you allocate limited testing resources, which we were always in that space up until the last week or two.

“There is never an easy answer about who should be tested when you have limited resources.

“But when there is a priority to be made, the most vulnerable population would be given that priority.”

Mrs Lee said she appreciated how difficult it had been to get test equipment to Bermuda and was “amazed they have gotten what they have gotten”.

However, she said the Government should have been upfront about why it did not test sooner at Westmeath.

Mrs Lee added: “I don't think they wanted to fail. This is a very young Premier, who I think has done a very, very good job, but I think they thought they'd get away with it.”

She said: “All in all, I feel that they have done a good job. I think he has done a very good job of making the country feel calm.

“I think his moves to shelter-in-place and everything were all really good. But the downfall has been the testing.”

Mrs Lee added: “There are still a lot of people out there and it just has to be prioritised.

“We just need to know that we are not going to hear of another rest home popping up.”

Barbara Lee (File photograph)

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Published April 30, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 30, 2020 at 11:38 am)

All rest homes to be tested by mid-May

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