TALLAHASSEE — Almost as soon as the Gondolier Sun had reported on how long-term care facilities were dealing with the coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered nursing homes and assisted-living facilities (ALFs) to prohibit visitations as much as possible, saying patients, staff and visitors are at risk.

The prohibition applies to any person infected with COVID-19, any person presenting signs or symptoms of respiratory illness, or any person in contact with such persons; any person who traveled internationally or who was on a cruise in the past 14 days; and any person in a community with “community spread” — diagnoses of the illness regardless of origin — in the past 14 days.

Anyone who enters an ALF or nursing home will be asked to answer a brief survey in order to determine entry.

“I think these are prudent steps,” DeSantis said.

He instructed Mary C. Mayhew, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, to carry out the executive order.

Mayhew has been on a reconnaissance effort of her own, visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state.

“We know the most effective way to protect Florida’s most vulnerable residents is to prevent the infection, or those with symptoms of an infection, from entering the facility,” she said. “The first line of protection is vigilant screening of all visitors, vendors, and staff.

“I’ve traveled to facilities throughout the state, had my temperature taken, answered all the questions, and I have been prepared to be comprehensively screened. No one is exempt from the screening.

“Every provider I have visited has been unequivocal in their support for and implementation of these screening protocols. And every facility must have the necessary tools at their disposal to keep patients and residents safe. And that’s why this executive order is so important.

“We’ve seen the tragic situation in Washington State at a nursing home there. The choice is clear: Florida will and must take every step to prevent real and potentially fatal threats to our elderly and senior populations, and those with underlying health conditions.”

Surprise visits

While long-term care facilities conduct drills and take many of these precautions every day, Mayhew has ordered surprise visits to some facilities.

“My agency has take decisive action … to visit all hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities that have had issues related to infection control and prevention,” she said. “Any (that had) deficiencies that we identified in the last year we are prioritizing for onsite inspections and visits.

“These visits will allow my agency to focus our efforts on the spread of COVID-19, and to ensure adherence to infection prevention protocols that we expect.”

Even before this week, the Florida surgeon general had requested all long-term care providers implement health screening measures upon entry to the facility for all visitors, family, vendors and staff.

Upon arrival at a facility, visitors will be directed to check in with a health care professional to take their temperature, be given a brief questionnaire and be provided handwashing and coronavirus education.

“Don’t be surprised if someone in a facility stops you and asks you a series of questions, like whether you’ve been on a cruise recently, or requires you to wear a mask,” said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson with the Florida Health Care Association.

Knapp, whose association represents most nursing home and assisted-living facilities in the state, said COVID-19 is being taken “extremely seriously and (we are) trying to be proactive to protect our residents, staff and visitors.”

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