Florida launches new testing mandates as COVID-19 spreads through nursing homes

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 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 now recommends all nursing home residents be tested over the next two weeks.

“We needed to get in there as soon as possible to make sure that if we weren't enforcing standards before, that we were enforcing them now,” said Richard Mollot with the Long Term Care Community Coalition.

Over the weekend, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration issued two emergency rules requiring nursing homes to grant access to the Florida Department of Health for infection prevention and control, which will include mandated virus testing for every single employee at each facility.

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Any centers not following the new state testing rules could face fines or have their licenses pulled.

The new directives come days after Governor Ron DeSantis debuted a mobile testing lab, which is being deployed to eldercare centers for rapid coronavirus testing.

“Within 45 minutes, you’re gonna get the result, the diagnostic result,” DeSantis explained.

The state launched a website to track the unit. An interactive map shows it already traveled around Miami-Dade and Broward counties and was conducting testing at facilities in Palm Beach County at the time of this writing.

“We're going in with the area fire departments and looking at every single nursing home and long-term care facility in the county,” explained Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton.

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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.

“It’s what we’ve trained for, it’s what we’re equipped for, it’s what we're prepared for,” explained Ian Womack, division chief of rescue for St. Petersburg Fire Rescue.

Pinellas County fire departments are working with the DOH to visit all 250 long-term care facilities in the county.

“We’re helping provide manpower so they can get into these facilities and provide them with training, help them to implement the CDC guidelines,” Womack said.

According to the DOH, there are more than 900 COVID-19 infections in residents and workers at Tampa Bay area long-term care facilities.

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 covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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