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FRHS & SMH Press Release -- Local Nursing Home & Assisted Living Center Participating in Mass Testing Event

Freeman Regional Health Services (FRHS) is partnering with Salem Mennonite Home (SMH) and other local facilities to coordinate their participation in a mass testing event focused on long-term care facilities. This action is in response to a White House nationwide call issued earlier this week to test all nursing homes. South Dakota public health leaders announced on May 14 the plan to test all of the state’s long-term care facility residents and staff for the COVID-19 virus.
Although neither FRHS nor SMH have reported positive cases of COVID-19, it is important to determine if any individuals in care facilities are shedding virus at a given time. Testing is necessary to acquire this information since there is a portion of the population who do not exhibit symptoms but can spread infectious virus. After public health officials analyze the statewide and local data on positive cases, additional measures may be implemented at care facilities to help protect residents and staff. 
Public health leader focus on long-term care facilities stems from data that being age 60 and over negatively impacts the predicted outcome for those infected by the COVID-19 virus. The knowledge gained from this testing may have extended benefits to the larger community since the region served by FRHS and SMH harbors a high percentage of adults who are in this age category. According to the 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 28% of the residents in the three-county service area and 34% of Freeman residents are age 60 and over, which is a higher percentage of the population compared to the entire population of South Dakota and the United States (22% S.D.; 21% U.S.). This difference continues into the older age bracket such that 11% of the residents in the service area and 18% in Freeman are age 75 and over (7% S.D.; 6% U.S.).
The four-week mass testing plan is a joint collaboration between the state department of health, testing labs and local long-term care facilities. South Dakota Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon indicated that the plan includes testing more than 17,400 residents and staff in nursing homes during the first two weeks. She estimates that an additional 4,300 residents and staff in assisted living centers will be tested in the subsequent two weeks. Although the mass testing plan is aggressive, State Health Lab Director Tim Southern believes it is also feasible. After the mass testing event, the state will likely continue monitoring COVID-19 cases by conducting ongoing random testing.