Tallahassee, FL - Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is ordering long-term care facilities to temporarily block people from visiting residents if they have recently traveled internationally, been on cruise ships or been in contact with someone who has the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
“These are important efforts to mitigate the risk to our most vulnerable population to COVID-19, which is our elderly population, particularly those with underlying medical conditions,” DeSantis said Wednesday as he announced the directive.
Florida has 688 licensed nursing homes and another 3,782 licensed assisted living facilities, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration.
By aggressively screening visitors, Florida hopes to avoid a repeat of problems in Washington state, where nursing home residents have died from the contagious respiratory disease.
“We see the tragic situation in Washington state at a nursing home there,” Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said. “The choice is clear: Florida will and must take every step to prevent real and potentially fatal threats to our elderly and senior populations and those with underlying health conditions.”
The restrictions on visitation also would apply to adult family care homes and adult group homes.
People are being asked to stay away for two weeks after their travels or exposure to people infected with COVID-19, DeSantis said.
DeSantis also told reporters that Florida had 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and two of the patients who tested positive have died. Results were pending on another 147 tests.
DeSantis said Florida does not have what is considered “community spread” of the virus. He said residents who have tested positive have traveled internationally or have been in contact with someone who had contracted the virus traveling. His comments came a day after a top U.S. health official said there was “community spread” in Florida.
”With a community spread situation, you have three or four people that have never traveled, have never been in contact with anyone who has traveled, then that is when you think it was maybe when they touched a public railing,” DeSantis said. “So, if you can’t link the cases, that’s when they are doing it. All of the cases except one, so far, have had a link to either someone who has been positive who has been traveling in that area, or who has themselves traveled.”
The visitation restrictions were announced as the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic, a description that generally is used for the quick worldwide spread of disease. The virus started late last year in Wuhan, China, and has infected more than 121,000 people.
Meanwhile, Florida Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees said prevention measures like hand-washing and self-isolation are the best options to keep people safe.
“Because this is a flu-like illness spread by coughing, the protective measures are what we will continue to emphasize,” Rivkees said. “Cover your cough. Stay at home when you are sick. Stay away from individuals who are ill and continue to wash your hands.”