(The Center Square) – With at least 656 nursing home and long-term care residents among the 1,779 who have died from COVID-19 in Florida, the state is mandating continuous testing for 200,000 staff members who work in the facilities.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) issued emergency orders this week that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to permit Florida Department of Health (DOH) officials into their buildings for infection control and to conduct COVID-19 testing of residents and staff.
According to ACHA’s order, “When the department enters the buildings, the nursing homes and assisted living facilities will need to require staff members to submit to tests” and make those who are off duty “available” for testing.
Failure to comply could result in license revocations, suspensions and fines, ACHA said.
“The challenge we face is mitigating and containing the spread of this deadly virus in our long-term care facilities,” ACHA Secretary Mary Mayhew said in a statement. “To guard against the rapid spread of COVID-19, I am issuing emergency rules for our nursing homes and assisted living facilities requiring that every facility allow access to the DOH or their authorized representative for mandatory testing for all facility staff. These rules will also require every facility to allow access to the DOH or its authorized representative for infection prevention and control purposes.”
DOH has established a COVID in LTC daily update webpage that charts COVID-19 cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As of Tuesday, 482 of 3,800 Florida nursing home and assisted living facilities reported 1,667 positive residents and 1,738 positive staff members. Another 1,848 positive residents have been transferred.
According to DOH, the 1,667 who have tested positive represents 1.1 percent of 147,204 nursing home and assisted living facilities residents statewide.
The number of deaths among nursing home and assisted living facilities residents, however, accounts for about 40 percent of state fatalities attributed to the disease.
DOH has a separate document that updates COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and assisted living facilities weekly. As of the last update May 9, it listed 656 residents, eight employees and one person of “unknown status” among the dead.
Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation & Nursing Services in Pinellas County, with 22 residents and one staff member dying from the disease, listed the most. Three others – Braden River Rehabilitation Center in Manatee County, Highlands Lake Center in Polk and Suwannee Health and Rehabilitation Center in Suwannee – reported 18 deaths, and at least six others reported at least 10 deaths.
Gov. Ron DeSantis banned nursing home and assisted living facility visitations in late March, but the state has encouraged – not required – the facilities to screen employees when they report to work, until this week.
Among other measures taken to protect nursing home and assisted living facility residents are deployments of 50 four-member National Guard strike teams and an RV with a lab capacity of conducting 3,500 45-minute tests a week.
DOH's dashboard reported Tuesday afternoon that 41,923 people in the state had tested positive for COVID-19, with 7,418 hospitalized and 1,779 dead from the disease.
The numbers reflect an increase of 9,193 new cases, 1,819 hospitalizations and 615 deaths since May 1.
New cases continue to demonstrate a roller-coaster pattern with 650 new cases reported on Monday, 398 on Sunday, 707 on Saturday, 783 on Friday and 353 on Thursday.
DOH reported 580,316 people had been tested statewide through Sunday, an increase of 79,736 over the past four days, with an overall 7.2 percent positivity ratio.
Positivity ratio of test results is a key indicator in DeSantis’ three-phase reopening plan, which will gauge progress in slowing the disease’s spread by declining percentages, not declining case counts.