Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees this week recommended Florida nursing homes restrict visitation to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The respiratory illness is especially dangerous for the elderly and those with health conditions like hypertension or diabetes. Four nursing home deaths in Washington state have been linked to the illness.
Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said while family members and non-medical staff are not being kept out of facilities, officials are exploring opportunities for virtual visitation.
"Whether that's through Skype interviews or phone calls, FaceTime anything along those lines, we're trying to be a little innovative with new technologies that they can still meet with their loved ones,” Knapp said.
“But if we can limit the number of people coming in and out of the building, that's best for everyone."
There are 691 nursing homes in Florida with about 71,000 residents, according to the Florida Health Care Association.
Persons age 65 and older currently make up about 20% of Florida’s population.
Knapp said the Surgeon General held a call Tuesday morning with long-term care groups and medical partners to address coronavirus concerns. She says her group is working closely the Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration to keep patients safe.
Regular phone calls, similar to those held for hurricane preparation, are also being held.
"Collectively, all of us are working together along with the Governor's office to keep members informed, keep nursing homes informed to make sure that they are re-emphasizing their fundamental infection control policies and practices,” Knapp said.
Knapp said health care professionals, especially those working with the elderly, are urged to stay home if they feel sick. They’re also reiterating best handwashing practices and other disease prevention techniques to both medical and non-medical staff.
Despite reports of mask shortages, Knapp says facilities in Florida so far have what they need.
“We’re trying to make sure we're optimizing the use of the equipment, that personal protective equipment, because we don't want to have a shortage,” Knapp said. “So facilities are trying to stockpile just in the event there is any type of scenario that they need to have extra masks available.”
Florida Department of Health Deputy Secretary Shamarial Roberson told The News Service of Florida that the state has protective gear, including masks and N95 respirators, which are designed to specifically fit to people’s faces. The department didn’t provide information about the numbers of masks.
So far in Florida, there have been three cases of coronavirus in Florida. Two have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the third, the second cause in Hillsborough County, is still presumptive.
The Florida Health Care Association has set up a dedicated coronavirus webpage to share information about best practices, policies, funding and more.