By Miami Times Staff Reporter – Returning nursing home residents won’t be tested for COVID-19 – The Gov. Ron DeSantis administration, which has made a concerted effort to scale back restrictions enacted because of the coronavirus, wants to make it easier for residents of long-term care facilities to reunite with families for the holidays – even it means forgoing COVID-19 testing.
Residents who leave for the holidays won’t have to be tested when they return, but they will be screened for COVID-19-like symptoms. If they fail the screening, residents would be quarantined and isolated based on federal guidelines.
AARP Florida has already raised concerns about the lack of a testing requirement.
“There is no restriction on the length of absence and it may include an overnight absence,” according to the document distributed by the state to long-term care providers. “Residents leaving the facility temporarily must wear a face mask, if tolerated by the resident’s condition. Eye protection should also be encouraged. All residents must be screened upon return to the facility.”
The document came as the number of COVID-19 infections in the state continues to rise. As of Thursday, Florida reported a total of 827,380 COVID-19 infections since the pandemic started. Also, it reported 6,827 COVID-19 deaths stemming from long-term care facilities, mostly involving residents.
Dave Bruns, a spokesman for AARP Florida, said the state’s clarification is welcome news “for families who have been starved for opportunities to spend time together. However, unless Florida long-term care facilities can offer reliable, rapid-result testing as residents return to elder-care facilities, this act of compassion could turn deadly dangerous as we move deeper into winter.”
The federal government has been giving Florida nursing homes rapid COVID-19 testing kits and has been requiring the facilities to test residents and staff members routinely, based on the percentages of COVID-19 cases in the communities where the facilities are located.
But other long-term care providers, such as assisted living facilities and group homes for people with developmental disabilities, have not been receiving those test kits unless they have what is called a CLIA license.
“As AARP Florida has said since March 2, establishing reliable, uniform, rapid-result testing is the only way we can protect our most frail and vulnerable Floridians,” Bruns said. “Florida has made many good efforts. But no state, including Florida, has done well enough at protecting our elders.”
The DeSantis administration imposed a ban on visitors to long-term care facilities in the spring to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is particularly dangerous to seniors and people with underlying medical conditions.
The administration lifted the ban on visitors in early September, allowing for visitation in certain facilities so long as they had low COVID-19 rates. The policy also allowed “essential” caregivers to visit residents regardless of COVID-19 infection rates. Essential caregivers also were authorized to touch the residents, a move that was opposed by Scott Rivkees, state surgeon general and secretary of the Florida Department of Health.
The policy was recently updated to allow outdoor visitation at nursing homes regardless of COVID-19 infection rates.
The administration has reversed policies such as mandatory testing of all long-term care staff members and isolating infected residents in building wings or separate facilities.
Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said the policy about residents leaving facilities returns the state to pre-COVID 19 operations.
“Pre-COVID, residents were always allowed to leave to be home with loved ones for the holidays so, yes, this is another return to normal,” Knapp told News Service of Florida. “We had several care centers asking about this as family members had requested it.”
Gail Matillo is the president of the Florida Senior Living Association. She said her group, which represents large assisted living facilities, is pleased with the policy but wary of the second wave of COVID-19.
“We are concerned about the second wave, and we are reminding our members to remain safe,” she said.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are rising nationwide within facilities in states hard hit by the latest surge.
An analysis of federal data from 20 states for The Associated Press finds that new weekly cases among residents rose nearly four-fold from the end of May to late October, from 1,083 to 4,274. Resident deaths more than doubled, from 318 a week to 699, according to the study by University of Chicago health researchers.
Equally concerning, weekly cases among nursing home staff in surge states more than quadrupled, from 855 the week ending May 31, to 4,050 the week ending Oct. 25. That rings alarms because infected staffers not yet showing symptoms are seen as the most likely way the virus gets into facilities. When those unwitting staffers test positive, they are sidelined from caring for residents, raising pressures on remaining staff.
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