SINGAPORE - Nursing home staff in Singapore are now being tested for Covid-19 once every two months as part of measures to ensure that senior citizens in the homes are kept safe from the virus.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, a Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesman said that all nursing home providers will complete one round of testing of all staff every two months as part of a regular surveillance testing programme that began in the last days of October.
There are about 9,000 nursing home employees here and 16,000 residents.
Surveillance testing of nursing home residents will also be conducted in the coming months, added the spokesman.
The ministry will also study how to introduce testing for other groups that interact with nursing homes, such as volunteers and external vendors, as other methods of testing - like Antigen Rapid Testing - emerge.
"This will help maintain the level of protection for seniors in nursing homes, in the light of the higher risks that can come with the overall safe reopening," said the spokesman.
All nursing home staff and residents underwent one round of mass testing in May as a precautionary measure.
At the time, the mass testing exercise also included staff in welfare and shelter homes, which come under the purview of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). About 30,000 employees and residents in Singapore's residential care homes for the elderly were tested then.
An MSF spokesman told ST that since mid-July, a routine 25 per cent stratified sampled swabbing has done every two weeks for staff and residents at 36 MSF-funded or licensed homes serving the elderly.
This means that any given individual is swabbed once about every two months.
Visitors are not currently being tested, she added.
Visiting guidelines at such homes have not changed since visits were allowed again from June 19. Currently, each resident is allowed two pre-designated visitors but only one can visit at any given time.
Each home is only allowed to have a maximum of 10 visitors at a time.
MSF has gradually allowed more activities for residents, such as small supervised group outings, and home leave has been resumed.
For nursing homes, four designated visitors are allowed per resident, up from two when visits were first allowed. However, only one designated visitor is allowed at any one time.
Visits can now be up to an hour, up from 30 minutes previously.
These changes took effect from July 31, said an MOH spokesman.
The changes were made as the ministry recognised that interaction with family members and loved ones is important for senior citizens' socio-emotional well-being, she added.
Other precautionary measures continue to be in place, such as setting aside dedicated visitation areas, pre-scheduling visits, capping the total number of visitors on premises each day, ensuring safe distancing, visitor screening, and good infection control practices.
"We will continue to monitor the evolving Covid-19 situation and work closely with the nursing homes to review the various current precautionary measures, taking into account factors such as the risk of community spread, and the exposure of staff and residents as more social and economic activities resume in the broader community," said the MOH spokesman.