Two residents of a Broward County assisted-living facility have died from COVID-19, and at least five more have tested positive for the coronavirus after it was spread by people who worked there, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday. DeSantis sounded exasperated that one facility serving seniors had so many infections.
As of Saturday afternoon, Florida had 658 cases of COVID-19, a 26 percent increase from a day earlier. The death toll, including one non-Florida resident, was 12. Saturday morning Putnam County announced its first case of Covid-19, with 41 of Florida’s 67 counties now recording cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. But the Department of Health is still not counting Covid-19 cases of non-county residents as being in that county, even if the case is being treated or quarantined in the county. Flagler has at least one confirmed case, involving a Volusia County resident, but the county still is not registering on DOH’s map. Counting Flagler, at least 42 counties have Covid-19 cases.
Bob Snyder, who heads the Flagler Department of Health, said that even though the state’s dashboard may not reflect out-of-county cases confirmed or being treated in Flagler, he will ensure that those numbers are released regardless.
Cases in the United States have surged past 21,000, with more than 8,300 cases in New York, and most of those concentrated in New York City.
Both Flagler’s and Florida’s cases are considered to be artificially low because testing has yet to ramp up in most parts of the state, including in Flagler, where, as of Saturday, still fewer than 20 tests had been recorded in the Department of Health’s tallies of tests from its own personnel and from hospital personnel, though the figures don’t include swabs that may have been conducted by individual physicians.
Saturday afternoon Flagler County government was asserting that even though it had closed its parks and restroom facilities, including beachside such as those at Varn Park and MalaCompra Park, it was keeping beaches open, as was Flagler Beach. More than a dozen cities and counties have closed beaches in Florida. Duval County beaches were ordered closed at 5 p.m. Friday.
“There is nothing wrong with being outdoors as long as you are practicing social distancing,” Flagler Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord said. “Fireflight has been providing surveillance, and the Flagler Beach Police Department has been closely monitoring the busiest areas – the section within the city limits.”
Research out of Italy is indicating that many half- or gradual measures the country took were not effective in controlling the spread of the disease, as opposed to more immediate and radical measures. Italy recorded 793 deaths today alone, by far the largest number of deaths recorded in any country for a single day, so far. Italy has 53,000 cases and shows no indication of having the spread of the disease under control.
In Putnam, the infected person is a a 67 year-old man. Neither Putnam County government nor the Department of Health are releasing information about the man’s whereabouts–whether he is being treated in a hospital or at home, in self-isolation. The difference is significant, as self-isolation is considered riskier to the extent that those in self-quarantine have fewer containment measures in place, and do sometimes opt to leave their quarantine space.
The Florida Department of Health in Putnam County is conducting its contact investigation to figure out, to the extent possible, who the infected individual has had contact with in previous days, and working on identifying and notifying those individuals, who will need to self-monitor for symptoms for a 14-day period. Contact investigations are a critical way for staff epidemiologists to track and prevent the spread of disease. But they are not foolproof.Concern is mounting regarding the Broward County facility where two seniors have died.
“What the investigation has found out is that construction workers, staff and cooks who were ill were not screened and allowed to go work their jobs and mix with the residents unimpeded,” DeSantis said during a late Friday afternoon news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center. “That is exactly what you are not supposed to do.”
Another six residents who live at the Atria Willow Wood facility have been tested for the virus and the results are pending, DeSantis said, adding that he has requested the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to imbed an infection-control specialist at the facility.
The second resident of Atria Willow Wood to die from COVID-19 was a 92-year-old Broward County resident, the state said Friday. Florida had previously said a 77-year old resident died.
The announcement Friday makes real one of health officials’ biggest fears since the pandemic came to the state: community spread of the virus in long-term care facilities that house frail and elderly seniors. Florida has nearly 700 nursing homes and more than 3,000 assisted living facilities.
And the Broward facility isn’t alone in dealing with the issue.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew acknowledged Wednesday that 19 long-term care facilities across the state had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. The state won’t say where those facilities are located.
A Seattle-area nursing home where the virus ran rampant is reportedly responsible for more than 30 deaths in Washington state.
“If you are an operator of one of these facilities, you need to take responsibility to protect your residents,” DeSantis said. “This is a virus that is in certain communities spreading in Florida, and Broward is one of them and you need to take action to protect your people.”
The state initially asked long-term care facilities to screen visitors before allowing them into buildings. Then it banned visitors at long-term care facilities in Broward County. But as the virus continued to spread, the ban was extended statewide.
Meanwhile, AHCA on Wednesday sent an advisory to long-term care facilities advising them that anyone who enters the buildings must wear masks. Moreover, the edict requires gloves to be worn when care is provided to residents. The directive also stresses that people should “continue to perform hand hygiene prior to donning gloves, after removing gloves, and anytime there is contact with the resident environment.”
But on Friday AHCA said it would not fine nursing homes that can’t come into compliance with the requirements.
Also Friday, DeSantis issued an emergency order suspending non-essential elective medical procedures at all hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers and doctors’ offices to help conserve personal protection equipment — such as gloves and masks used in surgery — for efforts to contain and treat the virus.
The executive order describes medically unnecessary services as non-urgent or non-emergency procedures or surgeries, which, if delayed, do not risk patients’ health or, if delayed, will not contribute to the worsening of life-threatening medical conditions.
The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services had already recommended providers limit all non-essential elective medical and surgical procedures, and Florida hospitals had moved to do the same.
The Florida Hospital Association Board of Trustees on Thursday voted to postpone elective surgeries and procedures and recommended that facilities and providers refer to American College of Surgeons’ triage guidelines.
–FlaglerLive and the News Service of Florida