Coronavirus: 20% of nursing home residents test positive in Flanders' first screening round

Coronavirus: 20% of nursing home residents test positive in Flanders' first screening round
The virus may still be in the lungs, but it is often no longer present in the nose. Credit: Belga

Flanders has published partial results of the first round of Covid-19 tests in nursing homes, according to which no more than 20% of screened residents tested positive.

The results concern two-thirds of the roughly 7,000 tests carried out in Flemish nursing homes since the start of the week, and come as federal authorities boost efforts to better track the spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes throughout the country.

The figures, published by the Flemish Agency for Care and Health, show that out of 4,932 residents tested, so far 20% had tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19).

Out of the 2,129 staff members tested so far, 16% were positive, the agency said, drawing from figures passed down by federal health authorities, who have centralised testing at the federal level.

Breaking down the results between symptomatic and asymptomatic staff members and residents, the numbers showed that 49% of residents with Covid-19 symptoms who were tested turned out to be positive for the virus.

Among staff members, 41% of tests administered to workers with symptoms came out positive, the agency said.

By contrast, 16% of asymptomatic residents and 13% of asymptomatic staff members tested positive, the numbers show.

The agency also said that the overall results so far showed that more than half of those who were symptomatic had had negative tests results.

Karine Moyken, coordinator of Flanders' nursing home testing task force, said it was "notable" that asymptomatic residents and staff turned out to be infected and were "experiencing the virus without noticing it."

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'No guarantees' from negative results

The tests provided by the federal government are PCR tests, done from samples taken from a nose or throat swab, agency spokesperson Joris Moonens confirmed.

While the swab tests are currently being widely used by countries to screen populations for Covid-19, health professionals have warned of potential false negatives.

In New York City, which has emerged as the global epicentre of the pandemic, doctors have expressed concern over false results from patients who have "obvious symptoms" of Covid-19, Bloomberg reports.

Incorrect or hasty swabbing and a lowering of accuracy standards to boost production of test kits were cited as the main factors to explain false results.

"These kind of tests are the most reliable tests at the time but there can be false negatives," Moonens told The Brussels Times, saying that most of the time this resulted from incorrectly swabbing a patient.

Caroline Leys, a spokesperson for Federal Minister Philippe De Backer, who is leading the country's testing task force, said she could not immediately provide information regarding the accuracy of the tests.

Moonens said that a negative result did not guarantee that there was no infection, adding that those who tested negative should "still be vigilant for symptoms of the disease."

In accordance with previous guidelines, staff members who tested negative but were experiencing symptoms can keep working if the symptoms are mild and they have no fever, he said.

A single test was conducted on each staff member and resident and the agency has currently no plans to conduct a second round of testing on the same person.

Results from Brussels and Wallonia were not available, with the spokesperson for Iriscare in Brussels saying the regional agency would have results by the end of the week.

The press office of Wallonia's health agency said they could not immediately provide information on the testing situation in the region's nursing homes.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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