COVID-19 testing in long-term care facilities 'woefully inadequate'

Long-term care facilities continue to be dangerous and deadly hot spots for COVID-19 in the Tampa Bay area and throughout the state. Governor Ron DeSantis says testing is being done, but patient advocacy groups say it’s not enough.

“Even though Florida is doing testing, it’s still not gonna be enough, it’s still woefully inadequate,” said Brian Lee, Director of Families For Better Care.

The advocacy group, along with other watchdog groups for the elderly believes there’s one way to stop the outbreaks infecting these older, vulnerable patients.

“It’s gonna have to come through consistent testing that’s happening on an on-going basis,” Lee said.

The Governor issued an Executive Order banning visitors from nursing homes across the state back in March. But that lockdown, along with other steps the administration has taken did not prevent COVID-19 from infecting residents.

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There’s evidence staff without symptoms are introducing the deadly virus. Last week, DeSantis encouraged all eldercare workers to visit testing sites to find out if they are infected.

“You really do need to be getting tested probably once every two weeks,” he said.

A mobile testing lab was deployed nearly two weeks ago to do rapid testing at nursing homes. According to the online tracker, it’s now in Manatee County. 50 strike teams are also fanned out across the state doing testing at centers with coronavirus outbreaks.

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However, there are no orders mandating every resident and employee at facilities be tested. In-fact, testing for the people who live there remains optional.

“We do need long-term care facilities who have the ability to self-test to let us know, we can provide the lab capacity, we can provide the supplies,” said DeSantis.

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The COVID-19 death toll related to long-term care facilities has climbed to 883. That is nearly 45% of all virus deaths across the state, a percentage that’s been steadily creeping higher.

“Those are all good methods, I think that they were a good start,” Lee said. “But it’s not the end game of where we need to be, where Florida needs to be, and that is universal testing for all residents and all staff, period.”

The federal agency that regulates nursing homes released new guidelines Monday saying the facilities should be among the last to reopen and urged leaders to continue to ban visitors until certain conditions are met.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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