Senior living communities use pooled saliva testing to keep residents, staff safe

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A group of senior living communities in the Triangle are using pooled saliva testing in an effort to keep their residents and staff safe.

"It allows us to identify active COVID very early in our community, and then subsequently respond to prevent community spread from happening," said Jaime Pacheco, the Executive Director at Magnolia Glen.

The process tests residents once a week and associates twice a week, with results typically back within 24 hours. If the pooled sample returns positive, everyone in that sample is given an individual PCR test to determine who was positive.

"From a programming perspective, we are confidently and thoughtfully do certain things like opening up our dining programs for in-person service, offer wellness and activity programming," said Pacheco.

Pool sizes range from 50 to 100 people, depending on how many people work and reside within the community.

"I really thought that (testing) once a week was going to be too much. I thought that was just overkill. But I'm grateful Jaime has done it. I think it's been wonderful. I'm sorry that more testing isn't being done in these retirement communities, but it's certainly helped the residents here feel more comfortable among each other," said resident Sally Lazar.

The frequent testing is in conjunction with a strict adherence to mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing throughout the facility, as well as limits on visitors entering the facility.

"It's just what we have to do. We've gotten through it this far, and we'll make it through the rest of this," said Lazar.

Congregate living facilities are some of the highest-risk areas during the pandemic, as staff have implemented procedures to protect residents.

"It was difficult to adjust to. The first three months were the hardest. I think we've gotten into a pattern now which is helpful," Lazar said.

Prior to the pooled saliva testing, nurses would conduct nasal tests, a process which took up to 20 hours weekly.

This week, Magnolia Glen announced they had identified one assisted living resident and two associates who were COVID-19 positive; the associates were quarantining at home. They expressed confidence that their measures had prevented any further exposure.

"When we do get active COVID in our community, we're able to respond to it in a very quick and effective way, to make sure that it's extinguished and doesn't end up in community spread," said Pacheco.

Other facilities using the pooled saliva sampling include The Cardinal at North Hills, Woodland Terrace, and Abbotswood at Stonehenge.
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