Florida Launches Stricter Testing Mandates as Coronavirus Spreads Through Nursing Homes

An elderly handicapped woman wearing a face mask during the coronavirus outbreak. Photo and Caption: FamVeld/Shutterstock.com

Florida announced stricter rules for long-term care facilities as the number of deaths connected to those centers continues to climb. The latest numbers released by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) show 745 residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the state have died from COVID-19. Those deaths make up nearly 42% of all fatalities attributed to the virus in Florida.

The White House recommends all nursing home residents be tested over the next two weeks. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration issued two emergency rules during the weekend of May 8 requiring nursing homes to grant access to the Florida Department of Health for infection prevention and control. The rules require mandatory virus testing for every single employee at each facility. Any center that refuses to test could face fines or risk losing their license.

Administrators at nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state have been begging state officials for two months to test their staff and residents to make sure the staff had not been infected with the coronavirus. State health officials wouldn’t allow it, instead testing only homes that already showed signs of the virus. Even though testing in those places was voluntary, it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes staff and residents who had no symptoms were refusing to be tested, said Veronica Catoe, chief executive officer of the Florida Assisted Living Association, an industry trade group.

Broward Health staff testing (pre-screening) people for COVID-19 in Pompano Beach, Florida, USA on March 20, 2020. Photo and Caption: YES Market Media/Shutterstock.com

No word yet on whether state officials will embark on the widespread and universal testing the homes have been seeking. A National Guard strike team began working with state officials to test all staff members at a small number of the 3,800 homes in Florida. The order is an attempt to clarify some confusion related to the National Guard testing, said Kristen Knapp, a spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, a trade group that represents nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

In Florida, nursing home operators have said the lack of testing kits has made it challenging to stop the virus from entering their facilities. This is mostly due to not knowing who may be carriers that show no symptoms. More than 27,000 residents and staff have died from outbreaks of the virus at the nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to a tally based on state health departments and media reports.

Pinellas County officials put together a long-term care task force to form procedures for protecting residents in nursing homes. The group helped transfer a combined 15 patients from St. Petersburg Nursing and Rehab and Gulf Shore Care Center Monday night. Pinellas County fire departments are working with the DOH to visit all 250 long-term care facilities in the county. According to the DOH, there are more than 900 COVID-19 infections in residents and workers at Tampa Bay area long-term care facilities.

The most recent figures released on Tuesday show that about 3,400 residents and staff members of long-term care facilities in Florida are infected with the new coronavirus. So far, 745 employees and workers have died.