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Exclusive: Safety officer overseeing nursing home testing in Maryland concerned about COVID-19 positive staff

Asymptomatic, positive workers concern Colonel Dr. Eric Alley, emergency safety and compliance officer for Maryland nursing homes

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Colonel Dr. Eric Allely is no stranger to large scale outbreaks of deadly viruses. Having worked to address Ebola, H1N1 influenza and Zika, Col. Allely and his team, understand what's needed to get viruses under control.  

He's now using his knowledge to lead Maryland's effort to test all residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 

"We are certainly well suited for this mission," said Colonel Allely. "[The Maryland National Guard is] a pretty disciplined group of people. We get up early. Work long days and stay at it seven days a week."

That's the type of discipline needed to respond to a novel coronavirus that has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, according to recent data from the Maryland Department of Health.  

RELATED: Maryland stay-at-home order lifted May 15, Prince George's and Montgomery counties not ready to reopen

"This is a big task. These are some very special people. They are at added risk because they have co-morbidities and they're an elderly population," he said.  

More than half of Maryland's COVID-19 deaths are from nursing homes and assisted living facilities. So far, more than 40 nursing homes have been visited, Allely said.  

"Our goal is to...[test] around 20 to 50 sites per week minimally," he added.  

There are hundreds of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state and the teams responsible for testing have identified new cases of COVID-19. 

RELATED: Executive order by Gov. Hogan mandates new requirements for Maryland nursing homes

"We are identifying asymptomatic, positive staff members," explained Colonel Allely as he underscored the importance of testing and identifying risk within high-risk facilities. "Those staff members need to step out for the requisite period of time before they can come back in care."  

Col. Allely noted the intense pressure for nursing home and assisted living facility staff; long hours, infected staff and strained resources. But his team is in it for the long-haul; fully prepared to retest facilities after an initial round has been completed. 

"The disease is not going away. We're going to have to remain vigilant and we're probably going to have to assist the nursing homes in protecting these individuals they are caring for," he said.  

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