VA Plans Poop Pilots to Detect COVID-19 Outbreaks at Nursing Homes
The Veterans Affairs Department will test wastewater for early indications of infection among residents, who can then be quarantined to limit the spread to others.
As the U.S. continues to post record numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths daily, the Veterans Affairs Department is piloting a wastewater testing program aimed at safeguarding one of the most vulnerable populations the agency serves.
Last week, the agency announced a sole source contract to CDM Smith to collect samples of wastewater—poop and other human sewage—from eight VA Community Living Center nursing homes. As a place for elderly, disabled and infirmed veterans, residents at the centers are at a higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.
By testing wastewater—which has been shown to predict outbreaks five to 11 days before they occur—VA officials hope to find early indications of infection among residents, who can then be quarantined to limit the spread to others.
“Nursing homes continue to be severely impacted, with over 72,000 deaths in US nursing homes as of the first week of December,” a sole source justification posted to beta.SAM.gov states, citing figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “The project has the potential to prevent virus transmission within the CLC and could prevent CLC occupants from becoming ill.”
The program entails collecting wastewater samples “from designated sanitary sewer manholes” at eight centers, then packaging and delivering those samples to a single VA laboratory.
The pilot is projected to cost $780,000 over six months.
“Because of this critical potential benefit, starting the project as soon as possible is paramount,” the sole source justification states.
The document cites “unusual and compelling urgency” as the sole reason for eschewing the standard competitive contracting process, despite being issued 10 months into the crisis.
The agency did release a request for information earlier to get an idea on pricing from multiple vendors. That information was used to certify that CDM Smith offered a reasonable bid, which was in fact lower than other vendors who responded to the RFI.
“Due to the pandemic, bidding with full competition is not feasible due to the delay in execution,” the sole source justification states. “Delays will put patients at continual risk.”
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