By John Haughey | The Center Square
Florida is going to create a statewide network of “COVID-designated facilities” where nursing home, assisted care (ALF) and long-term care (LTC) residents diagnosed or recovering from the disease can convalesce.
Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced the concept during two news conferences Friday, including one at the Dolphin Pointe skilled nursing facility in Arlington near Jacksonville, which will serve as a prototype.
Dolphin Pointe will be used exclusively for recovering COVID-19 patients, with 17 on hand and seven more arriving in the next 24 hours, he said, noting it has negative pressure rooms and other amenities most standard nursing homes, ALFs and LTCs lack.
“We have thousands of LTC facilities and far more that simply don’t have the capacity to deal with positive residents,” Desantis said. “We could not ask hospitals to send patients back to nursing homes and long-term care facilities” that do not have the amenities to properly for them without risking fellow residents.
According to the state’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard, of 1,669 deaths reported statewide Friday evening, more than 600 are residents and staff of nursing homes and LTCs with 470 facilities statewide reporting more than 1,400 residents or staff testing positive.
“We knew this was a disease with a disproportionate effect on the elderly, particularly those with co-morbidities,” DeSantis said, noting the state has sent 10 million masks, 1 million gloves and 500,000 face shields to the facilities.
In addition, he said, 50 four-member National Guard “strike teams” are focusing exclusively on nursing homes, ALFs and LTCs and a specially outfitted RV with a lab capacity of conducting 3,500 45-minute tests a week will be making rounds at facilities in South Florida beginning this weekend.
“The state has put its money where its mouth is,” DeSantis said.
The governor praised Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Mary Mayhew for working with hospitals to not discharge positive patients back to facilities, as other states have done in a “disastrous way.”
Mayhew called Dolphin Pointe a “model we are going to build on across the state.”
“I cannot tell you how important this facility is,” she said, thanking “the staff and owners for saying, ‘We will be a COVID-designated facility.’ As we open the state, this will be one way to help ensure two cases don’t become 20, that five don’t become 50.”
DeSantis also highlighted initiatives in antibody testing that, he noted, will be available at the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium in Jacksonville and at a West Palm Beach site starting Saturday. Both will be able to conduct up to 100 tests a day.
“For this one step, we are focusing first on health care workers and first responders,” he said. The state has “the first 200,000 delivered this week.”
From relatively limited random testing conducted this far, “The numbers of people with antibodies far, far exceed the number of people who test positive,” DeSantis said.
A key component of DeSantis’ three-phase “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step plan” is to increase testing up to 30,000 a day and gauge progress in slowing the disease’s spread by the percentage, or “positivity,” of test results.
Thursday, he said, represented the best testing day for Florida since the start of the emergency with nearly 20,000 test results yielding 358 new cases.
“As we expand testing, we are starting to find more and more people who are negative,” DeSantis said.