COVID-19 infections surge in Florida long-term care homes

Nursing home protocols prevent families from Thanksgiving reunions
Nursing home protocols prevent families from Thanksgiving reunions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – COVID-19 infections are surging in Florida’s long-term care facilities as families are deciding whether to take their loved ones out for the holidays.

The Florida Department of Health reported Friday, Nov. 27, that 1,402 residents tested positive for the virus -- a 17% increase from the 1,192 residents who state health officials reported were COVID-19 positive 14 days prior on Nov. 13. Over a 30-day period, infections in Florida residents surged 87%.

Of the long-term care residents who’ve tested positive, 3,864 have been transferred to either a hospital or another facility for treatment.

The reports on cases in long-term care facilities from the state Department of Health change every day and are snapshots of currently available information reported by each facility to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

As cases continue to climb, long-term care facilities have been given more leeway to protect residents from potential outbreaks of the virus, including adding additional requirements for residents who leave facilities to visit with family over the holidays.

In early November, the AHCA told facilities in a FAQ letter that residents could leave the facility if they wanted to, including for holiday visits. The letter said testing wasn’t required to get back in and residents who passed screening did not have to quarantine or isolate when they came back.

But in a statement from the ACHA weeks later, the agency told families the FAQ were minimum requirements and facilities could implement additional measures to protect residents.

Virginia Lesperance made the decision to keep her mother in her Jacksonville assisted-living facility, Camellia at Deerwood, for Thanksgiving Day.

“It was just too much of a risk, and she didn’t feel comfortable either,” said Lesperance. “I can see both sides of A, we want to keep everyone safe and minimize exposure, but then there’s side B of we never know when our last holiday is going to be and, you know, are we going to risk it?”

Susan Bolton faced the same choice. Bolton eventually decided to bring her mother home for the day. It helped, she said, that her facility was not requiring her mother to be quarantined for 14 days if she could pass a screening.

“I think that most people that want to bring home their parents or, you know, their husband or wife or even children that are in some of the long-term care facilities. I think these people are going to be very careful because they don’t want to contribute to the program in the nursing homes,” she said.

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