The AARP sees positive news regarding coronavirus infection trends in Florida’s nursing homes. But the group sounded caution as cases climb nationwide and winter approaches.
Jeff Johnson, Florida state director for the AARP, communicated his optimism about the Sunshine State’s current position amid a pandemic. But he also stressed the need to remain vigilant.
He pointed to an AARP dashboard tracking cases, created by the AARP Public Policy Institute using data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which is self-reported by nursing homes.
“Let’s start with the most important thing first – Florida ranked better than the national average in numbers of nursing-home resident deaths and infections from COVID-19 in the four-week period ending Oct. 18,” Johnson said.
“Florida also performed better than the national average in protecting staff against COVID-19 infections and in having at least a week’s worth of personal protective equipment on hand. That’s all good news.”
Florida was among the first states to release names of facilities with COVID-19 cases and to disclose the number of cases at locations. AARP praised that transparency.
For the moment, it’s bringing good news. In the four-week period before Oct. 18, nursing homes in Florida averaged two active cases per 100 residents. The nationwide average is 2.8 cases. Earlier in the month, the state average was 4.5 active cases per 100 residents.
Federal data does not include coronavirus cases among residents or staff of assisted-living facilities, though Florida health officials do.
Despite that improvement, Johnson expressed concern about a general increase in infections and hospitalizations. The Department of Health on Wednesday confirmed 5,838 new coronavirus infections and 52 deaths.
“Unfortunately, there is no reason to look at this data and conclude that the pandemic no longer poses a risk to frail and vulnerable older Floridians,” Johnson said.
“We must keep our guard up, especially if the virus once again is on the rise this winter.”
He also noted that while there’s a low number of active cases in Florida nursing homes according to the AARP dashboard, the cases that exist are widespread. About a third of Florida nursing homes had at least one COVID-19 case in the four-week period, and close to 90% of Florida nursing homes had at least one case this year.
Johnson hopes Florida lawmakers consider the challenges nursing homes face as the next Legislative Session draws near. He reiterated AARP’s call for mandatory regular, frequent, rapid-result testing of staff, residents, visitors and vendors at all elder care facilities.
“Older residents are continuing to pump billions of dollars each month into Florida’s longevity economy, even as traditional mainstays such as the tourism industry have been hit hard by the pandemic,” Johnson said.
“It’s not only basic fairness, but good economic development to ensure that older Floridians can rely on a robust continuum of elder care and be protected against the pandemic.”