Florida nursing homes are adopting the same protocols as those at the epicenter of the outbreak in Washington state, where several nursing home residents died from COVID-19.
As the number of Floridians infected by the coronavirus grew Tuesday, so did the precautions taken by hospitals and nursing homes to curb the spread.
Though Palm Beach County continues to report no confirmed cases of the respiratory disease caused by the deadly strain, nursing homes here and across the state reported instituting stricter restrictions on visitation, some opting to take the body temperatures of family members and vendors coming into facilities.
The county’s largest hospital chain, Tenet, began cracking down on those walking through their doors as well, barring visitors ages 12 and under and discouraging teen visitors up to age 17, spokesman Ryan Lieber confirmed.
The Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes with about 70,000 seniors, said it is following new federal guidelines handed down by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which has developed a screening tool with a list of questions to be answered by each visitor.
The state is adopting the same protocols as nursing homes at the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak in Washington state, where several residents in one facility died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness tied to the virus.
Florida nursing homes are encouraging family members to visit loved ones only for essential reasons.
All visitors will be asked if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, such as a cough or fever, if they have been in contact with anyone with the coronavirus, or if they have traveled internationally on a cruise ship.
Kristin Knapp, spokeswoman for Florida Health Care Association, said some of its 550 nursing homes have also started taking temperatures of visitors. She said mailers have been sent to families asking them to curb their own visitation.
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“The biggest concern for us is making sure the public understands the protocols,” Knapp said. “Help us help keep our residents safe. If you have traveled internationally or traveled on a cruise ship or if you have symptoms, please stay home.”
Volunteers or volunteer groups are also asked to stand down for the time being.
“We have school groups or church groups who want to come, but the point is to keep our staff and residents healthy,” Knapp said.
The homes are also working with hospitals, since their residents often move back and forth, on how to prevent spreading the virus after a medical visit. “Our goal is to prevent the virus from coming to the building and that is the first and foremost priority,” Knapp said.
One option, may be keeping families connected via Skype or Facetime until the crisis passes.
Working with family of hospice patients
Still, trying to restrict visits can be a bit tricky, especially when it comes to residents in hospice. Knapp said the nursing homes will try to accommodate family members who need to see loved ones during their last days.
“We are going to work with those family members. We might ask them to put on a mask or a gown,” she said.
As of Tuesday, no COVID-19 cases had been reported in this county. A Pennsylvania man who attended a Palm Beach County Convention Center conference Feb. 28 tested positive for the virus and is being cared for out of state.
That said, the five Tenet hospitals in the county have stepped up their vigilance, screening both patients and visitors for fever and cough before they are allowed the see patients, Lieber confirmed.
The hospitals are also prohibiting children under 12 years old from visiting their campuses ― Delray Beach, Good Samaritan, Palm Beach Gardens, St. Mary’s and West Boca medical centers. The hospitals are also discouraging visits from teens ages 13 to 17.
The VA Medical Center in West Palm Beach is reducing the number of entrances to two and screening everyone entering with touchless thermometers. They ask patients to arrive for their appointments one to two hours early.
4th case in Broward
The precautions came as Florida’s health department reported that a 69-year-old woman has become fourth person in Broward County to be infected by the .
The woman has been isolated and will remain so until she is cleared by public health officials. Authorities say she and two men previously diagnosed were connected to or employed by Metro Cruise Services, a company that operates out of Port Everglades.
The health department is working to contact all of Metro Cruise Services employees to give them information and monitor their health. Meanwhile, employees who may have come into contact with the three tare asked o self-isolate at home, according to a statement issued Tuesday morning.
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Few details have been released about the Broward man who didn’t work at Port Everglades.
Tuesday morning, the state health department listed 14 Florida residents diagnosed with the coronavirus. Five separate cases are listed as repatriated (they are residents in isolation out of state), and one is listed as a non-Florida resident.
Two Florida residents have died from the virus: a 77-year-old Lee County woman and a 71-year-old Santa Rosa County man.
Authorities worry most about the over-60 set as they are most at-risk of becoming severely ill.
Seniors across the county were taking the virus seriously. Some canceled their cruise ship voyages ― or tried to. But a refund was not in the cards for at least one Jupiter man.
Cruse trip: No refund
Vince Cassidy, 84, and his wife, Audrey Stone, planned to take a week-long cruise on the Caribbean Princess on May 16 to St. Martin and other Caribbean islands. The Navy veteran has been on about 50 cruises and says being on the high seas makes him calm, but that won’t happen with the coronavirus afoot.
However, when he called Princess Cruises, Cassidy said he was told he could get only credit for his trip and not a refund for the $1,350 tickets, even though he purchased trip insurance.
Cassidy doesn’t only belong to a vulnerable age group, he also has an underlying condition, being hobbled by a stroke and moving about in a wheelchair or a walker.
He said he should be able to get his money back.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be with everything going on with the coronavirus,” he said. “I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. Who knows how long I’m going to be alive? I can give you a million reasons.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department say to avoid cruises. But there was Adam Goldstein, global chairman for Cruise Lines International Association, with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday, saying, "It's critical that Americans keep traveling."
"It's a problem. One hand doesn't know what the other is doing," Cassidy said. "There are mixed messages going out, and you don't know what to believe except that people are going to get screwed."
Two passengers have sued Princess after being stranded on a ship off the coast of California.
Gaetz tests negative
U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said in a tweet Tuesday that he had tested negative for the coronavirus. He’s been in isolation after learning he came in contact with someone who tested positive at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland late last month.
Also Tuesday, the Society of the Four Arts announced it was ending its season early because of COVID-19. The last event is Friday after the film series presentation of “A Private War,” a news release said. Everything but the botanical gardens and scupture garden will be closed until further notice.
Florida health authorities report they have monitored 1,161 people to date with 319 of them still being monitored. It notes 222 people have tested negative for the illness and 155 results are pending.
The breakdown by county of the 14 Florida residents diagnosed is as follows: Broward County (4); Volusia (2); Manatee (2); Lee (2); Charlotte (1); Okaloosa (1); Hillsborough (1); Santa Rosa (1). Hillsborough is also home to a second case, the sister of a resident included in the state’s count, who is being cared for in Florida but is a California resident.
Staff writer Joe Capozzi contributed to this story.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.