Long-term care lockdown continues as COVID-19 cases, deaths rise

Long-term care facilities have been off-limits to visitors since mid-March, keeping families apart and residents isolated.  Governor Ron DeSantis says the lockdown was to protect our most vulnerable, however, he signaled Friday he wants visitation restrictions at nursing homes relaxed soon.

The state locked down long-term care centers 55-days ago. No visitors, no families, and no end in sight.

“The typical day in a nursing center is not the same at all during this pandemic,” said Kristen Knapp with Florida Health Care Association. “The Federal Government restricted communal dining, they restricted group activities, in some areas where there is community spread residents are required to stay in their rooms.”

The isolation from loved ones and friends is difficult for residents and patients.

MORE: Death of Seminole Pavilion nurse brings Freedom Square death toll to 17

“I do worry about the toll that that takes on people, families, emotionally,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

He hinted Friday that he thinks it is time to roll back some of the restrictions.

“Let’s figure out a way where we can bring in visitors safely, maybe that means they do a rapid test before they go in, maybe some of the ones who have antibodies, maybe they wear PPE,” DeSantis said.  “But we’ve got to figure out a way to do that, that’s not gonna present a risk to the other residents here.”

Safety of the people inside the facilities is also the focus of the Florida Health Care Association, an advocacy group representing close to 600 nursing centers across the state.

“You can have someone who is asymptomatic and have the virus, so we have to make sure we’re making the best decisions to ensure the safety of our residents,” Knapp said.

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Nearly 40% of all the COVID-19 deaths across the state are related to long-term care facilities.

Last Friday, the state started releasing a weekly list of those nursing homes, and the latest version has Tampa Bay area centers in the top three spots.  Pinellas County’s Seminole Pavilion reports 23 deaths among residents and staff, with Braden River Rehab in Manatee County, and Highlands Lake Center in Polk County both listing a death toll of 18 people.

FOX 13 News has confirmed through the Medical Examiner’s Office that there have actually been 29 deaths connected to Seminole Pavilion. That number includes one nurse from the facility.

Knapp says opening facilities back up cannot be a one-size-fits-all model, there are many factors that need to be considered in each community.

“We’ve got experts around the table that are talking about this because ultimately we know that’s where we want to get back to be,” she said.

“I can’t announce anything right now, I don’t know that we’re there yet, but we’ve got to get there,” said DeSantis.

Continued coverage:

- Four more COVID-19 deaths reported at Seminole long-term care facility

- Lakeland nursing facility reports 84 cases of COVID-19, 12 deaths

- Daughter says Lakeland nursing home did not want to test for COVID-19

- Two nursing homes account for 23 deaths from COVID-19 in Manatee County

- Family did not know nursing home was overrun with COVID-19 cases until it was too late

- Nursing home resident had COVID-19, family learns after his death

More than 25% of Manatee County COVID-19 cases in residents of long-term care faclitilies