COVID -19 Testing in Sarasota County Florida (copy)

The Florida Department of Health Sarasota County conducted COVID-19 drive-thru testing at Heron Creek Middle School in North Port on April 24.

Our Position: Florida has stepped up its testing of nursing home and assisted living clients and staff, and that is a positive move, yet more needs to be done.

As the number of positive tests and deaths in Florida’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities continue at unprecedented levels, it is obvious something had to be done.

Gov. Ron DeSantis first created strike teams of National Guard members who traveled the state to test clients at nursing homes and assisted living homes in an attempt to get a handle on the problem. That was a good idea, but it failed to make a dent in the numbers for two reasons. The tests of staff were voluntary and only facilities whose clients had already come down with the coronavirus were tested.

So the number of older people in the state’s nursing homes and assisted living homes continues to dwarf cases in the general population. As of Wednesday 42% of COVID-19 deaths in Florida were residents or staff of long-term care facilities. That should be no surprise. The age of the clients in those facilities makes them a prime target for the virus. Also, the likelihood of the virus spreading in a contained housing unit is obvious.

Sunday, the Agency for Health Care Administration issued an order that all residents and staff must be tested for COVID-19 at long-term care facilities where testing takes place — with no exceptions. Even those with no symptoms and staff not on duty must show up to take a test. It is often staff, of course, that can carry the virus to and from their job.

This long-delayed, common sense approach would have surely saved lives and hindered the spread of the disease had it been put in place weeks ago.

There is still one problem, though. The state has more than 3,800 of these facilities and only 150 of them have been tested so far. And there are no plans to test every facility in Florida.

National Guard teams are focused on a limited number of facilities where the virus has already struck. They will, we understand, test all clients and staff at those facilities whether they show symptoms or not.

It’s quite possible, under the new guidelines, that hundreds of long-term care programs will not be tested — unless residents or staff come down with the virus.

We understand the challenge of testing everyone in a nursing home or assisted living facility in the state. It would be an enormous undertaking.

Still, Gov. DeSantis has declared we have the ability to test thousands of people. There is no better place to start than in these facilities where our most fragile and susceptible Floridians live.

We cannot imagine anyone hesitant to use tests on this vulnerable segment of our population because of their age or health. If we can get into the facilities and prevent the spread of the virus — to clients and staff — we must do so.

The Agency for Health Care Administration made the right decision when it ordered everyone to be tested — symptoms or not. Now let’s hope it, and Gov. DeSantis, have the determination to march into those facilities and carry out those orders — all over Florida.

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