White House recommends tests for all nursing home residents

In this April 20, 2020, photo, a nurse sits beside a resident in the red zone where those sick with coronavirus stay at Wren Hall nursing home in the central England village of Selston. The coronavirus pandemic is taking a huge emotional and physical toll on staff in Britains nursing homes, who often feel like they're toiling on a forgotten front line. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
In this April 20, 2020, photo, a nurse sits beside a resident in the red zone where those sick with coronavirus stay at Wren Hall nursing home in the central England village of Selston. The coronavirus pandemic is taking a huge emotional and physical toll on staff in Britains nursing homes, who often feel like they're toiling on a forgotten front line. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – With deaths mounting at the nation's nursing homes, the White House strongly recommended to governors Monday that all residents and staff at such facilities be tested for the coronavirus in the next two weeks.

Why the government is not ordering testing at the nation's more than 15,000 nursing homes was unclear. Nor was it clear why it is being recommended now, more than two months after the nation's first major outbreak at a nursing home outside of Seattle that eventually killed 45 people.

Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, told governors on a video conference call that it’s the federal government’s strong recommendation that such testing be done.

“We really believe that all 1 million nursing home residents need to be tested within next two weeks as well as the staff,” added Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, according to a recording of the call obtained by The Associated Press.

President Trump has repeatedly said there have been plenty of testing kits and has shifted blame to governors for reacting too slowly on testing, a charge he repeated in a Rose Garden news conference later Monday.

“Frankly, some of the governors were very lax with respect to nursing homes. It was obvious right from the beginning," Trump said, referring to the Washington state outbreak.

Asked why testing was recommended, not ordered, Trump said: “I would certainly consider that. I will mandate it if you'd like."

More than 27,000 residents and staff have died from outbreaks of the virus at the nation's nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to an AP tally based on state health departments and media reports. That is about a third of all 80,000 deaths in the U.S. that have been attributed to the virus.