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Cases Spur COVID-19 Testing At North Florida Disabilities Facility

a scientist drops samples into little tubes using a pipette.
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The state Department of Health is testing 244 residents and 800 staff members of a Northwest Florida facility for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities after two residents tested positive for COVID-19.

The state Department of Health is testing 244 residents and 800 staff members of a Northwest Florida facility for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities after two residents tested positive for COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration said Tuesday.

Two male residents of Sunland Center tested positive Monday, with the first positive result coming when Jackson Hospital in Marianna administered a test on a resident who was being treated for a separate issue, the DeSantis administration told The News Service of Florida. The resident was asymptomatic and was being tested before he could be transferred back to Sunland, under requirements of a recently issued state emergency rule.

The second resident who had been transferred to the hospital also tested positive for COVID-19. The men lived in the same house on the 500-acre Sunland Center campus in Jackson County.

Both residents are in the hospital and will remain there until they have two negative COVID-19 tests, according to Melanie Etters, a spokeswoman for the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities, which has oversight of Sunland Center.

“APD (the agency) is taking every possible step to prevent the spread of this virus and to protect our residents. APD is requiring all employees and residents to wear face masks as an additional precaution. APD began screening visitors at the beginning of this outbreak, and currently (does) not allow any visitors at the facilities,” Etters said in a prepared statement to the News Service. “Required vendors, regulatory officials, and first responders must follow screening procedures to gain access. Everyone who wishes to enter the facility, including employees, must have their temperature taken prior to entering.”

Sunland Center provides care for Medicaid-eligible people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Valerie Breen, executive director of the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, said her organization has been concerned about precautions to protect people with disabilities from being exposed to the deadly respiratory disease.

“The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council has remained very concerned about the availability and implementation of PPE (personal protective equipment) and strict protocols specific to our population,” Breen said in a statement to the News Service. “People living with I/DD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) in our state institutions should never be an afterthought in the fight to restrain the spread of COVID among some of our most vulnerable and those who care for them. We are pleased to know that now everyone is being identified and tested at Sunland.”

The Department of Health visited Sunland Center on May 1 and tested some staff members and residents who volunteered to be tested. No one tested positive at the time, Etters said.

But with the two men found to be positive for the disease, the testing is no longer optional, administration officials said. The state should know the results of all testing in the next 10 days.

As of Tuesday morning, Florida had 41,923 cases of COVID-19, with 1,779 deaths. COVID-19 cases stemming from long-term care facilities accounted for 745 deaths, or nearly 42 percent of the total. Long-term care facilities include assisted living facilities, nursing homes and institutional care facilities for people with developmental disabilities.