Florida releases tally of COVID-19 cases at long-term care facilities

Data show 2 Clay County facilities have 87 cases combined

FILE (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (John Minchillo, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time, the state of Florida on Monday released data on the number of known cases of COVID-19 there are at each long-term care facility.

Families and media organizations have asked the Florida Department of Health for details on the number of residents and staff who have tested positive at each long-term care facility for weeks. Until now, the state and facilities resisted disclosing that information, citing patient privacy laws.

The list from the Department of Health is based on updates each facility provides to the Agency for Health Care Administration. It contains the current number of residents with positive tests, the number of residents with positive tests who transferred out of the facility and the number of staff who have tested positive.

RELATED: State list of long-term care facilities with infections inaccurate

Statewide, there are a total of 2,298 cases in nearly 400 of these facilities.

Monday’s release comes a little more than a week after the state published a list of long-term care facilities that have cases of COVID-19 — a list criticized over inaccuracies — and days after some providers volunteered data on the number of cases there are at their facilities. One of them was HCR ManorCare, which posted a list on its website showing 31 cases at a Clay County facility.

By and large, the state data confirms what HCR ManorCare previously released about Heartland Health Care Center in Orange Park. It shows 32 residents and 14 workers there have tested positive. It does not include 11 residents who have since transferred out of the facility.

The data also sheds light on other facilities including Governor’s Creek Health and Rehabilitation that previously refused to make public the extent of their infections. In that facility, the data shows 26 residents (excluding five who left) and 15 workers have tested positive for the illness.

RELATED: Clusters of infections reported at Clay County facilities

Making this information public was long overdue, according to Families For Better Care, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about conditions within nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The group has been pressing the state for more transparency about the toll the virus has taken on these facilities.

“About time!" the group tweeted in response to the news. “Now the state can rightfully focus on what’s needed to prevent additional outbreaks and deaths in long-term care facilities, the universal testing of all staff and residents.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis explained the decision to release additional details about long-term care facilities at a news conference Monday in Tampa. He said he made the call despite concerns from state officials that media might “descend on a nursing home” with an outbreak.

RELATED: Florida releases list of long-term care facilities with infections

“I think that that’s a legitimate concern because I know how irresponsible some people can be,” the governor said. “At the same time, I was concerned one nursing home didn’t inform the family like they were required to do and we could have just simply put it out there. Maybe it’s better to just put it out. So that’s what I told them to do and that’s how we’re going to be able to handle it. I’m going to look at exactly...what form they’re putting it out for everybody.”

DeSantis acknowledged there have been cases of employees bringing the illness into long-term care facilities and then spreading it to residents. He said that’s one reason protecting this vulnerable population has been a priority from the start. The state has sent teams to investigate facilities with outbreaks, and DeSantis said staff at these facilities will be screened with antibody testing.

“A lot of them don’t have the (personal protective equipment),” he said. “So, the Division of Emergency Management has sent almost 7 million masks just to long-term care facilities, almost 1 million gloves, more than half a million face shields and 160,000 gowns — that is a huge amount of supplies. But I think that’s directing supplies where the risk is the greatest.”