Gov. Ron DeSantis is directing the National Guard to deploy strike teams to preemptively spot check patients and staff at long-term care facilities for COVID-19.
Thirty paramedics trained in specimen collection and a dozen advanced life support ambulances have already been used to spot check nursing homes and similar facilities. On Monday, the Governor said Florida National Guard strike teams would contribute to the cause.
“It’s critical to identify people who test positive as early as possible, and this will help us do that,” DeSantis said.
Ten strike teams of four guardsmen will begin spot checking in counties most affected by the pandemic. With access to personal protective equipment permitting, the state will expand those efforts.
Patients and staff will be randomly, but voluntarily, tested for the novel coronavirus.
Recently developed five-minute “rapid” coronavirus tests have allowed for spot checks with a quick turnaround to identify possible hot spot facilities before an outbreak explodes.
Among the requirements already in place at long-term care facilities are temperature and symptom checks for employees and anyone making essential deliveries. But with the discovery that people can be contagious without showing symptoms, the state is now trying to preempt outbreaks in the nursing homes and other facilities.
“What we’ve found in a lot of these long-term facilities is the spread is more significant among the staff,” DeSantis said. “It’s not that they weren’t following the protocols in some cases — they were — it’s just somebody didn’t show symptoms.”
At the start of April, the rate of new cases in long-term care facilities appeared to increase, suggesting exponential growth there even as the number of new cases statewide appeared to plateau. As of a Monday morning report from the Department of Health, 962 residents and staff of long-term care facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Nationally, more than 2,700 people have died in nursing homes from COVID-19 following a surge in the last two weeks.
Over the weekend, DeSantis stood by the state’s long-term care facilities and said they have done a great job following the heightened precautions.
In addition to testing efforts, the state has 120 teams that have assessed nearly 4,000 facilities to determine their needs and to promote appropriate infection control practices. And when someone at a facility tests positive, the state immediately sends rapid emergency support teams, a procedure DeSantis said federal health officials have identified as a model for other states.
Those emergency support teams include an infection preventionist, regional and state staff and an advanced life support ambulance. The state has deployed teams to 93 facilities with patients who tested positive.
Also this weekend, the Miami Herald reported the DeSantis administration’s legal counsel contacted the Herald’s legal team to drop a suit to release the names of facilities where people have tested positive.