How Virginia, Maryland, and DC are Using Strike Teams to Combat COVID-19 in Nursing Homes

As of August 31, 2020, there are over 6 million cases of COVID-19 in the US and 183,000 people have died. There are many horrific tragedies that have occurred over the past six months, but one of the worst is how coronavirus decimated many nursing homes across the country. More than 70,000 people who were residents or staff from nursing homes have died from COVID-19. On top of that, another 375,000 residents or staff from nursing homes have been infected by the virus.

Something needs to be done to make nursing homes safer for residents and staff. Borrowing from a model used for natural disasters, states are now sending teams of responders called “strike teams” to help facilities with outbreaks.

How COVID Strike Teams Work

COVID-19 outbreaks spread fast in long-term care facilities, which are filled with medically vulnerable residents and staff in relatively small spaces.

COVID strike teams apply an emergency response model traditionally used in natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires to combating outbreaks in long-term care facilities. Composed of members from local emergency management departments, health departments, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, and the National Guard, the teams are designed to bring more resources and personnel to a disaster scene.

Across the US, 25,000 National Guard troops have been called up to assist with COVID-19 response duties. Under Title 32, the National Guard is authorized or directed by the President to mobilize or activate, usually for natural disasters, and typically, the federal government bears the full cost. But in the case of COVID-19, the president decided that the federal government will pick up 100% of the cost of that National Guard in just five states: Florida, Texas, Connecticut, California, and Arizona. The remaining 45 states and territories must cover 25% of the cost.

Strike Teams Originated in Maryland

Maryland was the first state to form special strike teams with members of the National Guard to help fight the coronavirus in nursing homes. “The goal here is not to replace a nursing home’s medical and clinical team, but to provide immediate support and assistance to help protect residents of these facilities,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said at a news conference in Baltimore.

The teams in Maryland include members of the National Guard and representatives of local and state health departments and hospital systems. Governor Hogan outlined three types of teams:

1. Testing teams identify those in close contact with a confirmed case and send out for the fastest test available. They also provide instruction on how to keep confirmed and suspected cases of staff separated.
2. A second kind of team is made up of members of the National Guard who assess the situation on site and determine equipment and supply needs and triage residents.
3. A third type includes clinical teams made up of doctors, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses from major hospital systems. They provide on-site medical triage and stabilize residents in the nursing home in order to avoid unnecessary transport to hospitals.

“Desperate times, like a pandemic, call for a different way of thinking,” said Dr. Timothy Chizmar, the emergency medical services director for Maryland. “The idea has roots in trauma settings, where it’s just not possible to take everybody off the scene — sometimes you need to take some medical care to them.”

To date, the strike teams have completed more than 125 visits to various congregate living facilities across the state of Maryland, including nursing homes.

How Virginia is Using Strike Teams

In Virginia, National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are helping to increase Virginia’s COVID-19 testing capacity at long-term care facilities and other locations.

Strike teams are being deployed to long-term care facilities identified by the state as needing testing support. Each strike team is comprised of four teams, each with three people, who receive rigorous medical training on proper sample taking, sample handling, and sanitation. Those teams train to go through a residential long-term care facility room by room to conduct a large number of tests quickly and safely.

On the back end of the strike team, there are soldiers and airmen providing decontamination, to make sure they are not bringing COVID out of the facility and potentially contaminating themselves or another facility.

The capability provided by the strike teams has significantly boosted COVID-19 testing across Virginia, especially at long-term care facilities. Since these testing missions began, the strike teams have collected 5,398 samples from more than a dozen facilities across the state.

How DC is Using Strike Teams

In Washington, DC, The George Washington University Emergency Medicine group has established a COVID-19 Emergency Medicine (EMED) Strike Team, in collaboration with the DC Department of Health (DOH). Similar to Virginia, the purpose of the strike team is to expand COVID-19 testing to vulnerable populations. Over the past few months, the EMED Strike Team has gone to “hot spots” around the city to perform COVID testing, such as certain nursing homes and to the homes of high-risk patients with mobility issues. The EMED Strike Team has improved access to testing for others in DC through a collaboration with DC DOH and the DC Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) to set up drive-through testing. After testing, the strike team delivers the test swabs directly to the DC DOH laboratories for processing.

Toolkit Released on How States Are Mitigating COVID-19 in Nursing Homes

Wondering what else your state is doing to combat COVID-19 in nursing homes? This past month, a toolkit was released featuring a compilation of actions (such as strike teams) employed by organizations, including state governments, to assist nursing homes in meeting the needs of nursing home residents since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to view this document.

Plan Now for Loved Ones Who Will Need Nursing Home Care

If you have a loved one who needs nursing home care, please read my recent article, “Choosing a Nursing Home for a Loved One During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” If you haven’t done so already, the time to plan is now! Please contact us whenever you’re ready to make an appointment for an initial consultation.

Elder Care Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Estate Care Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care Attorney DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.