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As COVID-19 Numbers Improve, Florida Considers Nursing Home Visits

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference Monday along with Dr. Joshua Lenchus, chief medical officer of Broward Health Medical Center. DeSantis says he's exploring ways to open nursing homes for family member visits.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference Monday along with Dr. Joshua Lenchus, chief medical officer of Broward Health Medical Center. DeSantis says he's exploring ways to open nursing homes for family member visits.

Officials in Florida say cases of the coronavirus are continuing to decline, an indication that efforts to halt the spread of the disease are working. In Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez told commissioners Tuesday, "I am pleased to announce it appears we have leveled off."

Miami-Dade County has been responsible for 25% of the state's nearly 500,000 coronavirus cases. Gimenez said hospitalizations have been trending downward in the county for two weeks. "We've had a decrease of about 400 patients in the hospital," he said.

Another encouraging trend is the decline in the number of people testing positive for the virus. "We were hovering above 20% for a long time," Gimenez said. "Yesterday's rate was 12 1/2%."

Florida shut down many coronavirus testing sites around the state through the weekend because of Hurricane Isaias, which lowered the number of tests reported Monday. The rate of positive tests statewide is still more than 10% but continues to edge downward.

"I think the trend is positive," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. "I think we're going to continue to see the prevalence decline."

DeSantis spoke in Jacksonville, where he held a roundtable with advocates for the elderly and administration officials to examine ways to open nursing homes for family member visits.

It's been more than four months since Florida halted all outside visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in an effort to protect residents from COVID-19. The policy has helped keep elderly residents safe, but DeSantis said he's heard from many who were distressed that they couldn't be with family members in their final moments. "It leaves a mark," he said.

DeSantis said he wants to begin allowing people who test positive for antibodies to visit family members in long-term care facilities. People with antibodies, he said, aren't at risk of catching or further spreading the virus. He's appointed a committee of advocates and officials to look at other measures to allow family members to visit nursing homes.

One of those on the committee is Mary Daniel, a Jacksonville woman who has become an advocate for those with family members in nursing homes. To visit her husband, who has Alzheimer's disease, Daniel took a job as a dishwasher in his assisted living facility. Her story made national news and drew attention to the anguish of caregivers nationwide.

Daniel is encouraging Florida to look at the examples of Indiana and Minnesota, which established guidelines for designating "Essential Family Caregivers." They allow people who test negative for the coronavirus to visit people in long-term care.

"Our goal is to get to our loved ones," Daniel said. "They need a hug from us, not a picture of me on FaceTime, not me at the window. They need us."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.