Visitors may soon be allowed back in Florida’s long-term care facilities, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday during a news briefing at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
DeSantis said the federal government is sending new point-of-care coronavirus diagnostic tests to nursing homes across Florida and the country. These tests could be used to allow family members to get tested upon arrival and receive results within 15 minutes.
“This is a way to maintain safety and keep the virus out of a vulnerable area and have family members connect with their loved ones again. I look forward to those tests landing in nursing homes throughout the state,” DeSantis said.
Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said last week that the administration wants to require nursing homes in states with a minimum 5% COVID-19 positivity rate to test nursing home staff and visitors once a week. To accomplish that goal, CMS said it will send rapid point-of-care diagnostic devices and associated tests to nursing homes.
“In terms of visitors, you’ll see this coming up, what we’re going to say is, ‘We want to make sure there is no COVID inside a nursing home,’” Verma said in a phone call with the news media. “And once we see that for two weeks, our recommendation will be to permit visitation and to require testing.”
Already, 85 of Florida’s 700 nursing homes have received test kits, said Kristen Knapp, director of communications for the Florida Health Care Association, an advocacy group for Florida’s elder care facilities.
“Florida was in the first round of 2,000 test kits sent out to a couple of states [considered hot spots], but they are not in every nursing facility in the state yet. We are hopeful that will happen soon,” Knapp said. The federal government says it will ship tests over the next 14 weeks allocated by the size of the facility.
Knapp said Florida nursing homes are hopeful the availability of these tests could open the door for residents’ family members to see them again. DeSantis would need to lift the restrictions that prohibit visitors.
“There is a balance in keeping residents safe with giving them a good quality of life. The isolation is taking its toll,” she said.
Last week, the administration also announced an additional $5 billion in “provider relief funds” to nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
Florida Health Care Association Executive Director Emmett Reed lauded the additional funding, saying in a prepared statement that the “support will go a long way in meeting the needs of our members, who we know will be in this battle for months to come.”
Verma also said the federal government sent strike teams to 18 nursing homes in six states — including Florida — between Saturday and Monday. The teams worked with the 18 nursing homes, offering testing and infection-control guidelines.
The two-day deployment was a first, she said, adding that the administration will continue to send the teams to nursing homes with serious infection-control deficiencies and increases in COVID-19 cases.
In addition to Florida, strike teams visited nursing homes in Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Testing and sound infection-control practices are more critical than ever,” Verma said.
Information from the News Service of Florida supplemented this report.
Cindy Krischer Goodman is the health reporter for the Sun Sentinel. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @cindykgoodman
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