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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Gov. DeSantis Names Task Force Focused On Easing Nursing Home Visit Restrictions

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a COVID-19 round table at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in Miami on Tuesday, July 14. 2020.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a COVID-19 round table at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in Miami on Tuesday, July 14. 2020.

Gov. Ron DeSantis Friday announced the formation of a new task force focused on the safe and limited reopening of long-term care facilities in Florida. 

He says the panel will develop guidelines on how to safely allow family members to visit their loved ones in Florida’s long-term care facilities ,where visitation has been prohibited since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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One of the ideas the governor floated is allowing family members with COVID antibodies to visit long-term care facilities. On the Florida Roundup, host Melissa Ross was joined by Marty Goetz, the CEO of River Garden Senior Services in Jacksonville and Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at Florida International University's medical school.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation: MELISSA ROSS: What's the current situation for visitors at River Garden? How are you handling this?

 

MARTY GOETZ:  So, we are six months into prohibition of family visitation on nursing homes and we've honored that executive order. At the same time, it's become increasingly more challenging, maintaining that position. We've recently implemented porch visits with a plexiglass screen between residents and their loved ones. It's taken some of the pressure off, but the reality remains, we're social creatures, and we need each other to thrive.

 

Certainly, and that's clearly prompting this move from the governor to set up a task force to limit the reopening of facilities like River Garden. He says antibody testing would have to be done first. Is that something you'd be comfortable with? 

 

GOETZ: Yes, I would be comfortable with that and antigen testing. And antigen testing equipment is in the process of being made available from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to every nursing home in the state — in the country.

 

We received our equipment at the end of last week, late last Friday. It will help. You know, I appreciate the governor. I very much appreciate the governor's interest in making it possible for people to visit in the nursing homes. The truth of the matter is we need to be taking our lead from experts, not from the governor and not from Marty Goetz. It needs to be coming from the doctors. It's true, it needs to be coming from the Faucis and the Birx and those people who best understand this virus and how we might successfully manage the risk while we share responsibility.

 

I'm so glad you said that, Marty, because we actually have someone in the queue right now to join you. It's Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at FIU medical school. What are your thoughts about the governor's move today to start reopening nursing homes and long-term care facilities? 

 

AILEEN MARTY: It's really important that we make the distinction between an antigen and an antibody. See, the gen part of the word generates antibodies. So when you're looking for an antigen, you're not learning anything about antibodies per se. So when we do an antigen test, that means we're looking for these little proteins. They're little sugar-coated proteins that are integral parts of the virus.

 

Is this a safe reopening plan then? If this is how tests are apparently going to be administered?  

 

MARTY: Well, it's not about administering. It's about understanding what the test does. So if the antigen test is positive, it's probably true that the person currently has active infection with the SARS2 virus, and can share it with other people if it's positive, although even a positive test using an antigen test can be fake.

 

If the antigen test is negative, it doesn’t mean squat because, in both the approved tests, you have to back that up because they're not sensitive enough. They don't make zillions of copies like you do when you do the RTPCR tests. So a positive test probably means a person is currently infected. A negative test has to be backed up and doesn't mean the person is safe to go in.

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