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Long-Term Care Facilities Grapple With Coronavirus

A walker rests beside a small nursing home bed.
The Florida Channel
Even though the virus can be deadly to seniors and people who are medically compromised, Florida is not testing residents of long-term care facilities as a precautionary measure.

Residents at 19 long-term care facilities across the state have tested positive or are suspected of testing positive for the novel coronavirus, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said Wednesday.

Even though the virus can be deadly to seniors and people who are medically compromised, Florida is not testing residents of long-term care facilities as a precautionary measure.

Instead, Mayhew said the facilities are “isolating that individual (who tests positive) to care for them appropriately” and keeping them “from other residents to protect other residents and staff.”

Mayhew would not disclose the names of the 19 facilities, citing privacy concerns for the residents, but she said the Agency for Health Care Administration would provide a list of counties where the facilities are located. The list, however, was not immediately released.

One resident of an assisted living facility, a 77-year-old man in Broward County, died Monday from the virus known as COVID-19. While two other residents also died around the same time, Gov. Ron DeSantis said those deaths were not linked to the virus.

As of early Wednesday evening, Florida reported 328 cases of COVID-19 in the state, with eight deaths. Broward County led the state in confirmed cases with 80, followed by Miami-Dade County with 76 and Palm Beach County with 19.

Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said nursing homes have been working “tirelessly” to take steps to protect frail, elderly residents. The Florida Health Care Association is a statewide organization that represents nursing homes.

“Our immediate thoughts are with their loved ones at this time. At this point, it is unknown how or when these residents potentially contracted the virus,” Knapp said in a statement to The News Service of Florida. “FHCA and our members have been and will continue to be vigilant in taking all appropriate measures to safeguard our residents.”

The state banned visitation at long-term care facilities in Broward County last week. As the highly contagious virus continued to spread, the ban was extended statewide.

By restricting visitation, Florida hoped to avoid what happened outside Seattle, where the outbreak killed 25 people in a nursing home.

Meanwhile, the Agency for Health Care Administration on Wednesday sent a new advisory to long-term care facilities advising them that anyone who enters the buildings must wear masks. Moreover, the edict requires gloves to be worn when care is provided to residents. The directive also stresses that people should “continue to perform hand hygiene prior to donning gloves, after removing gloves, and anytime there is contact with the resident environment.”

Nursing homes quickly responded by noting they may not be able to meet the mandates because they are running short on supplies.

“While the requirement that every individual inside these facilities wear a mask and those directly involved in resident care wear gloves at all times is another proactive step to mitigate the spread of the virus, the unfortunate reality is that these centers are experiencing supply shortages at a crisis level,” Knapp said in a prepared statement.

DeSantis acknowledged the dearth of supplies and said the state is waiting for the federal government to fulfill a request for 150,000 personal-protective equipment kits.

“This is probably the biggest rush to get medical supplies in the history of the United States,” DeSantis said.