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Florida leaders working with nursing homes to prevent coronavirus outbreaks

Posted at 6:09 PM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 18:18:12-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Top health officials in Florida led a conference call Tuesday with hundreds of nursing homes and assisted living facilities statewide.

According to the CDC, the older population is most at risk from the coronavirus, but it’s important to note there haven’t been any confirmed cases in Florida linked to nursing homes.

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Jeff Johnson, Florida’s state AARP director, is on a mission to keep senior citizens safe by calling on Florida leaders to ramp up coronavirus protections.

“We don’t need to freak out or lose perspective. That said, with an older population there seems to be more risk,” he explained. “This is not the time to overreact, but given what we saw happen out West, we need to make sure we do everything we can to keep that from happening here.”


Florida leaders ramped up prevention measures Tuesday to ensure the state's nearly 300,000 assisted living facilities and nearly 700 nursing care centers are best equipped to prevent the coronavirus.

That includes following the CDC’s recommendations to: Designate staff members to coordinate decisions, be prepared to isolate residents with symptoms and screen visitors for any illnesses.

Kristen Knapp, with the Florida Healthcare Association, says some nursing homes and assisted living facilities have started asking visitors questions about whether they feel ill, have a fever, have visited countries impacted by the coronavirus before allowing visitors into the facilities.

“If we can limit the number of visitors in the facility, including vendors and suppliers, that’s really important,” Knapp said.

Knapp’s organization is representing more than 80% of Florida’s nursing homes.

“We take this very seriously. We already follow a lot of protocols to prevent the spread of the flu, so this is part of the fundamental practices that we are already doing,” Knapp elaborated.

A recent study by the China CDC looked at 44,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and found the overall fatality rate was 2.3 percent. Yet, in patients 80 and older, the death rate was more than six times as high.

Lee Horner works at St. Petersburg based Synzi, a healthcare technology company. He says they’re seeing a spike in home health services relying on video chats and phone calls with patients to limit in-person visits.

“We’re already seeing it. All of our clients are reaching out to us right now. There are concerns from patients about allowing nurses into their homes and vice versa to keep the virus from spreading,” Horner said.

Florida leaders vowed Tuesday to prioritize getting supplies and resources to our state’s most vulnerable residents.

Johnson says that’s crucial.

“This is where the attention ought to be. As much as everyone is talking about coronavirus, the one group really critical here is the folks in the nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” he added.