Outlook for COVID-19 in Florida's long-term care facilities worsens as new data emerges

In Pinellas County, 40% of those whose death is attributed to COVID-19 were residents of long-term care facilities. In Manatee County, it’s 43%. In Sarasota County, it’s 44%.

All three counties have been hot-spots for coronavirus-linked deaths in nursing homes. Governor Ron DeSantis called them "ground zero" during a press conference in Tampa Monday.

“We have emergency response teams, and they’re now partnering with the Florida National Guard,” he said. “They’re going in offensively, proactively to test in nursing homes.”

That was the case at Seminole’s Freedom Square last week, where currently 36 employees are positive for the virus and nine residents have died.

RELATED: Nearly 40 coronavirus-related deaths occurred among six nursing homes in Manatee, Sarasota counties

Robbie Jessee’s mother Tango, was one of the nine.

“The only thing they had told me was that she had had a fever and was coughing,” she said.

Tango Jessee

The 92-year-old had lived in Freedom Square’s Nursing Pavilion since 2016, and suffered from dementia. Robbie says a lack of communication led to confusion during her mother’s final week.

“Nightmarish would be the word that comes to mind. It was very upsetting because, the state I thought my mother was in, had I known that a couple of days before when they told me she was ok, I would have gone ahead and asked for her to be in the hospital,” he said.

Tango Jessee joins the growing list of coronavirus casualties plaguing the state's nursing homes.

Of the state’s 1074 deaths, 311 are long-term care residents; that’s 29%.

While seemingly high, some states, like Delaware (58%), Massachusetts (55%), and Colorado (50%) have it worse.

DeSantis insists Florida is in much better shape.

“You look at the fatalities connected to long-term care facilities, Florida is 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 for long-term care,” he said, however, the state is not releasing information about how many residents in long-term care have been tested or the total number that have tested positive. 

None of it makes it any easier for the families of Richard Elzerman, Dorothy Davis, Thomas Minichillo, or Tango Jessee – all residents of long-term care facilities who became victims of COVID-19.

Left to right, Richard Elzerman, Dorothy Davis, Thomas Minichillo

“Mom was very friendly, right up until the very end,” Jessee said. “Even as the dementia got worse. She would still ask people how they were, she was very caring about other people.”

FOX 13 News has learned Freedom Square now has a total of 12 COVID-19 resident deaths. St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor now has a total of four.

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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