A ban on visitation at Florida’s 4,000 long-term care facilities expires in early September, and Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting ready to reopen doors to residents’ family members and friends who have been unable to visit because of the coronavirus pandemic. State figures show roughly half of the reported deaths of Floridians from the disease are now linked to long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.
DeSantis is considering recommendations finalized a week ago by the Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of Long-Term Care Facilities. They came out of a series of emotional debates that often saw a lone advocate for families against the state's surgeon general and members of the elder-care industry. Families insisted that the isolation of their loved ones was leading to their deterioration, while health experts feared loosening guidelines would increase fatalities. Those discussions put the balance of risk with quality of life into stark contrast. Here are three major points about the panel’s recommendations:
Masks on all the time. While DeSantis has refused to require Floridians to wear face masks during the pandemic, there’s no disagreement about whether masks should be mandated in long-term care facilities. Under the recommendations, “essential” caregivers, who assist with daily living activities such as eating, bathing and grooming, would have access to residents’ rooms and would be required to wear the same personal protective equipment donned by health care workers. Members of the general public would have more limited visitation rights and wouldn’t be allowed into facilities without wearing masks and agreeing to adhere to social distancing requirements.
Human touch. Most of the task force’s visitation recommendations track guidelines that the federal government already had issued, causing advocacy groups such as AARP Florida and Families for Better Care to ask, “Why now?” But the task force recommended that emotional support, which includes touching and hugging, should be added to a list of daily living activities that “essential” caregivers might provide. That would put Florida in a unique position.
Testing. The panel altered a recommendation that would have allowed nursing homes to require visitors to be tested for COVID-19 before entering. The recommendation was altered to mirror newly modified testing guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
Changes to testing guidelines were made while Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was in surgery and not part of the coronavirus White House task force meeting when updated guidelines were discussed. Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, has confirmed that the weakened testing guidelines they adopted came from the White House.
The new gudelines raise the threshold for who should get tested, advising that some people without symptoms probably don't need it, even if they've been in close contact with an infected person.
Experts have previously warned that without the ability to test staff every time they arrive, there is no way to fully insulate facilities from exposure to COVID-19.