Seven weeks after reallowing families to visit loved ones living in nursing homes, Gov. Ron DeSantis is again easing restrictions to reunite families in long-term care facilities.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the state shut down all visitation to long-term care facilities, which house some of Florida’s most at-risk residents. With coronavirus cases subsiding in the Sunshine State after peaking in July, the Governor is hoping to increase the quality of life of facility residents while balancing their health safety.
“What we’re trying to do on this is really empower the residents, the families and the facilities to be able to make good decisions,” DeSantis said.
The Governor’s order will allow minors to visit family members and allow outdoor visitation regardless of positive cases in the facility. In August, ahead of the September reopening, the Governor’s task force on reopening nursing homes tied indoor and outdoor visits to facilities going infection-free.
“We just don’t have very many cases that get linked to outdoor activity,” DeSantis said. “I’m not saying it can’t happen — obviously it could happen under the right circumstances — but being outdoors has been something that’s been very positive, and particularly as the weather starts to get better in Florida and gets a little cooler, I think we’re in a position where that’s going to be very, very viable.”
The Governor’s order also clarifies that compassionate caregivers are exempt from social distancing guidelines. Those caregivers, ones who were identified as frequent visitors before the visitation suspension in March, can visit regardless of the virus’ presence in the facility.
“These compassionate caregivers are in there tending to a loved one,” DeSantis said. “They can give them a hug, they can do what they need to do.”
The order also eliminates the five-visitor limit placed on long-term care facilities, instead allowing each facility to set their own limits.
New tools, including millions of BinaxNOW rapid tests the federal government is delivering to Florida from Abbott Laboratories, have given the Governor confidence that facilities can safely expand visitation. Considering “the whole enchilada” of health and social connections he says has already improved the lives of nursing home residents.
“I don’t want to get COVID, but I want to be able to be with my family. I want a life worth living,” DeSantis said, invoking one unnamed resident.
With the holidays nearing, the Governor raised the need for families to enjoy time with their loved ones.
“That first hug that I got with my dad was just priceless,” said caregiver Christina Griswold. “Since then, he’s felt a lot better. He’s more happy. They’ve also reinstated the communal dining, which means he’s able to see his neighbors and his friends.”
Acting Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Shevaun Harris says the agency has seen case numbers stabilize within long-term care facilities.
In the past month, active cases among residents have been halved from 1,999 to 807. Among staff, positive cases have dropped slightly from 2,948 to 2,494. As of Thursday, 6,591 of the 16,267 Floridians who have died have been facility residents or staff.