The rate at which Florida’s nursing home residents died of COVID-19 more than doubled during the Thanksgiving holiday period, according to a new AARP report, a sign that coronavirus-related deaths will continue to afflict long-term care facilities as the distribution of the vaccines is still in its initial phase.
In the three-week period before and after the November holiday, 4.7 out of every 1,000 nursing home residents died in the state, an increase from 2.3 out of 1,000 in the four weeks before Nov. 15. The analysis also showed an increase of cases among residents and staff in the same period, until Dec. 6.
Over 7,900 residents and staff at elder-care facilities have died of COVID-19 so far in Florida, according to state totals.
Still, Florida is still well below the national average, a death rate of 15.3 per 1,000 residents. South Dakota had the deadliest nursing home rate, at 59.1 out of 1,000 residents.
The report is compiled from self-reported data from nursing homes to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as part of the AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard released every month. It does not include other elder-care facilities like assisted living facilities or independent living communities.
It also comes as experts and officials warn families to avoid traveling and other large gatherings during the holidays, amid fears of a rise in cases and deaths in the first few weeks of the new year.
“Public health experts had warned Americans that cases would increase as families traveled and visited each other over Thanksgiving, and the reported numbers have proved these warnings correct,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP’s Florida state director, in a statement.
He added that while “better news may be on the way soon as vaccinations are rolled out,” nursing homes continue to face serious risks in the short term.
The AARP, the nation’s largest nonprofit advocating for seniors, is also calling for Florida lawmakers to prioritize testing and personal protective equipment for residents and staff and ensure strict oversight of nursing homes. Advocates are also calling for the state to reject any immunity from liability for long-term care facilities, a measure that the elder-care industry associations have been lobbying for.
The surge also comes as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday the state would be prioritizing Florida’s seniors over 70 before vaccinating essential and frontline workers, a decision that is at a odds with recommendations made by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The vaccines are going to be targeted where the risk is going to be greatest, and that’s in our elderly population,” DeSantis said at a press conference Tuesday in The Villages retirement community in Central Florida. “We are not going to put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly, vulnerable population.”
On Tuesday, Florida had already vaccinated 49,932 people. No one has received the second dose of the two vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna, both of which use messenger RNA technology and require two doses.