Reminder: HETL Open for Nursing Facility Staff Surveillance Testing

DHHS issued guidance on July 1, 2021, regarding the expansion of nursing facilities testing options and permitting SNF's to submit surveillance testing samples of unvaccinated staff to the State of Maine's Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory (HETL).

In previous guidance issued on May 5, 2021, the Department adopted the same frequency standard as CMS for routine surveillance testing. It also adopted other changes announced by CMS on 4/27/21, including guidance that fully vaccinated staff no longer need to be tested as part of surveillance testing for COVID-19.

Revised Nursing Facility Testing Options
1. Effective July 1, 2021, a nursing facility may submit COVID-19 surveillance testing samples to the State's Health and Environmental Testing Lab (HETL) in Augusta.

a. Facilities are required to procure swabs and viral transport media or request supplies through their Public Health District Liaison (PHDL) (Appendix A).

b. Facilities must provide temperature-controlled transport of samples to HETL. Costs associated with transport are incurred by the facility; however, facilities can coordinate to share same-day shipping costs or work with a local health care organization that already has a courier service to Augusta.

c. Facilities must enroll in the Electronic Testing Order and Reporting (eTOR) portal to avoid unnecessary delays in processing of samples. Facilities that have used eTOR in the past but have not done so for some time are encouraged to call the HETL supervisor, Lori Webber, at (207) 287-1722 prior to sending samples.

d. Prior to submitting samples, the facility must use the approved scheduling link HETL Surveillance Testing to select a consistent time to drop samples. Presently, HETL is only accepting nursing facility surveillance samples on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of each week. HETL's hours of operation are 7am to 5pm; however, it is encouraged to drop your samples prior to 3pm for timely processing. The average turn-around-time at HETL is currently 24 hours from the time the samples are received.

Nursing facilities may continue to use private reference labs for PCR surveillance testing and submit for reimbursement, as outlined in the May 7, 2021 Memorandum “Updated Nursing Facility Staff Surveillance Testing and Reimbursement.” However, the Department may discontinue this reimbursement at some point in the future.
Antigen testing may also be used with the supply provided by the federal government, supplemented with additional kits as needed by the facility, subject to the reporting requirements included below in the information regarding BinaxNOW. Please note, the reporting requirements apply to any brand of antigen test.

If using antigen tests, two rounds must be completed for each required testing event. For example, if required to test weekly, two rounds of antigen testing (or one round of PCR) would be completed.

All Nursing Facilities should continue to use HETL for universal testing in the event of a positive case or an outbreak.

For additional information, including previously issued guidance and resources, please go to Office of Aging and Disability Services COVID-19 Resource page.