“Essential” caregivers would be allowed entry into nearly 1,900 of Florida’s 3,280 nursing homes, but wouldn’t be allowed to hug their loved ones if Gov. Ron DeSantis adopts a proposal to lift his visitation ban that has left seniors across the state isolated since March.
The Task Force on the Safe & Limited Re-Opening of Long-Term Care Facilities, appointed by DeSantis last month, approved a two-part proposed amendment Wednesday to the governor’s March executive order that banned visitation at more than 4,000 assisted living centers, group homes and nursing homes statewide.
The task force recommended rules that restrict the number of visitors allowed and frequency of visits and require facilities go 14 consecutive days without new cases among staff or residents before visitation is permitted.
Nearly 1,900 of Florida’s 3,280 nursing homes – 62 percent – would meet that criteria as of Thursday, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The proposed rules, which would be optional, do not require a COVID-19 test for “essential” visitors. The task force spent a great deal of time deliberating on how to define an “essential” visitor and defending rules prohibiting kissing and hugging.
During a roundtable in Orlando on Wednesday, DeSantis welcomed the task force’s recommendations.
“This visitation is long overdue,” he said. “At this point, we’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to get it done safely. But you can’t keep doing a half-measure to say you can see someone through a window only.”
Closing nursing homes from visitors in March and keeping them closed was a difficult thing to do, the governor said.
“The amount of pain it has caused families has been excruciating,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s going to be a great relief for a lot of our families who have had a really difficult time.”
“I think we’re all excited to see families reunited,’’ said Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Mary Mayhew, who help craft the proposed rules as a task force member, adding she expects the governor to issue a revised executive order “very quickly.”
Under the recommendations, visitors are broken into three categories: essential caregivers to help with bathing, dressing and feeding; compassionate caregivers for end-of-life type visits; and general visitors.
Under the proposed rules, general visitation should be limited to no more than five people who must be at least 18-years-old and encouraged to take place outside when possible, with facilities afforded flexibility in deciding how long and how often loved ones can visit.
The new guidelines also authorize visits by hairdressers and barbers.
Residents are allowed to name up to two essential caregivers, although facilities cam require only one can visit at a time.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees told the task force Wednesday there was no need to require visitors undergo COVID-19 tests.
“As we know, a negative test is only a negative test that day,” he said, supporting visitors be required to wear surgical masks and sustain a 6-foot buffer with residents.
Several task force members, including Rivkees, expressed concern about visitors hugging and kissing residents, even though the recommendations prohibit it.
“Masks, they don’t completely stop the spread of respiratory particles,” he said. “The closer you get, the more of a risk that is. This is a virus that heaps its fury on the elderly, and it doesn’t take much.”