COVID-19 cases spread at long-term care facilities despite lockdowns, testing mandates

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Lab technician James Donald, right, uses a nasal swab to test Hugo Marti for COVID-19, Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at the AHEPA Apartments in Miami. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Prime Care Family Medical Centers opened the free testing site to test the residents of the senior apartments. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Visitors have not been allowed inside the state’s nursing homes or assisted living facilities for months.

Locking down the long-term care facilities to protect the vulnerable was once something Florida boasted about getting right.

But a WINK News analysis of archived COVID-19 case reports for long-term care facilities in Southwest Florida show the virus is still spreading.

Aug. 15, 927 cases were reported between residents and staff at facilities in Lee, Collier, and Charlotte counties. It’s the same number of cases that were present in early July when staff began getting routinely tested in an effort to control spread.

“My anecdotal sense is that nursing homes around the state are caring for more and more COVID patients,” said Dr. Paul Katz, a geriatrician at the FSU College of Medicine.

Katz said the virus is spreading among young people. Because younger people work in long-term care facilities, it is making its way to patients.

As of Aug. 15, there were 66 COVID-19 deaths associated with Southwest Florida’s long-term care facilities. Ten of those deaths were reported just in the first two weeks of August.

One issue could be testing. The governor ordered all staff at long-term care facilities receive a biweekly test. However, there is no mandate requiring residents to get routine testing.

“If facilities are not regularly testing the patients, then, you do have a concern because you could have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread,” said Cindy Prins, an associate professor of epidemiology at UF.

Prins said geography also plays a role. In areas with less case spread and mask mandates, staff are less likely to contract the virus in the community and then bring it into the facility.

Dr. Katz also pointed out the lag time in testing and a lack of rapid result tests at long-term care facilities. Staff could be waiting several days for test results and still working while awaiting results.

“They find out three days later that they’re positive, so it exposes the residents unfortunately because of the delay,” Katz said.

The governor’s office has not directly answered our questions.

Tuesday, the federal government did make it mandatory for nursing homes to offer tests to residents when there is an outbreak or they have symptoms.

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