Georgia steers virus aid to care homes as rapid tests arrive

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday that $113 million in federal coronavirus relief funds will be made available to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The funding will be used to bolster staffing and staff testing in facilities across the state, according to news release from Kemp’s office.

Georgia received approximately $4.1 billion in federal funding as part of the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March to provide economic assistance to address the pandemic. The state had approximately $2.1 billion of that left before Friday’s announcement, Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said. Funding can be used to cover costs incurred up until Dec. 30.

Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

As of Thursday, over 2,530 residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities with 25 beds or more had died after contracting the coronavirus, according to data from the state Department of Community Health, out of roughly 7,060 total virus deaths across Georgia. Over 14,400 facility residents have tested positive for the virus, along with over 7,650 staff members.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

“The $113 million in Coronavirus relief funds we are announcing today will make $78 million available to nursing homes to meet current federal testing requirements,” Kemp said in a statement. “In addition to the $36 million the state has provided to nursing homes and long term care facilities in staff augmentation since April, the state is also committing up to an additional $35 million in staffing support through the end of 2020 to ensure facilities have the personnel necessary to safely provide care to their residents.”

In mid-September, Kemp announced new rules that allow for visitations to long-term care facilities to resume under certain circumstances. In counties where the infection rate remains high, visitors are still only permitted for extremely limited reasons.

New daily confirmed cases in Georgia are declining after peaking over the summer, but the state still sees well over 1,000 new cases per day on average.

In a separate announcement, the state Department of Public Health said it received more than 200,000 rapid COVID-19 tests for use among first responders, in schools and in other critical areas. It’s the first batch of nearly 3 million rapid tests slated to arrive by the end of the year, distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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