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Florida National Guard ready to respond to Tampa Bay area nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks

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Posted at 6:16 PM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 00:27:35-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida National Guard is on standby and ready to respond to Tampa Bay area nursing homes and assisted living communities dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks if the need arises.

It comes as Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee Counties see a spike in COVID-19 cases at long-term care facilities.

Tuesday, the Health Department’s Strike Team spent hours testing residents and staff at St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor. Management at the long-term care facility hopes that will help contain the outbreak.

St. Mark Village had at least 13 residents and eight staff members test positive for COVID-19 since April 10. They also had a 20-bed rehabilitation center set up as an isolation unit.

It comes just days after more than 60 people tested positive, and three died of COVID-19 at the rehabilitation and nursing center at Freedom Square in Seminole.

Carol Martin has a friend who lives at St. Mark Village.

“I really hope she is okay,” Martin said with a sigh.

She also worries about the virus spreading to other nearby communities.

“This is a retirement area with older people. We have other facilities here, and we’re hoping it doesn’t affect them either.”

Martin lives in a 55+ community with more than 5,000 residents just a few blocks from St. Mark Village.

Statewide— Florida leaders are tracking 200 deaths tied to outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As of Tuesday afternoon, 313 long-term care facilities statewide have had 2,001 positive cases of COVID-19.

Pinellas County Representative Chris Sprowls is on a mission to get personal protective gear and tests to nursing homes with cases. After hearing about the cases at St. Mark Village, he immediately called the Florida Health Department and Surgeon General to ensure the facility had access to adequate test kits.

He’s also concerned about a second spike in COVID-19 outbreaks once Florida reopens public spaces and eases social distancing.

“Even though we might start reopening things at some point in the future, that doesn’t mean we should rush to see our grandparents in nursing homes or even in their homes until we are past the point where they, who are particularly vulnerable, are safe,” Sprowls said.

The Florida National Guard tells ABC Action News they are equipped to respond to nursing homes with COVID-19 cases to provide testing for all staff and symptomatic residents. They are directed by the Florida Department of Health, which is working to coordinate the Strike Team’s schedule.

So far, the Florida National Guard says they've performed COVID-19 testing at 21 long-term care facility locations statewide and have collected a total of 3,553 samples.