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Mounting virus cases spark concern in Florida nursing homes
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MIAMI — The coronavirus transformed Florida’s nursing homes into closely guarded fortresses beginning in March, with the state banning family visits, isolating infected residents in separate wings and now requiring staff be tested every two weeks. But the explosion of cases statewide is proving that is not enough.
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The numbers are already showing the grim reality, underscoring how mask compliance and restrictions in the outside world impact the state’s most vulnerable. In the past three weeks, cases have gone from about 2,000 to some 4,800 at Florida nursing homes. Roughly 2,550 long-term care residents and staff have died overall, accounting for about 45% of all virus deaths in Florida.
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“Where you see COVID hot spots, our anxiety level in our centers automatically goes up. Our vigilance goes through the roof,” said Luke Neumann, a vice president at Palm Garden, which has 14 facilities across Florida.
“That’s how societies are judged in part — by how you care for the weak and aged,” Neumann said.
Florida recorded 173 new coronavirus deaths Thursday, a daily high that pushed its toll from the pandemic to more than 5,500. Deaths inside nursing homes have also been on the rise, averaging about 40 per day in the last week after those numbers had dropped in mid-June to lower than 20 deaths per day.
About 180 out of every 10,000 long-term care facility residents have died so far in Florida, a toll that is still far lower than some northeastern states, which saw deaths surge at the height of the pandemic in March and April. New York had about 400 deaths per 10,000 nursing home residents and New Jersey more than 1,100.
Florida has set up dedicated isolation facilities for nursing home residents who have been discharged from a hospital yet still continue to test positive for the virus, but those nearly 1,400 beds in about 20 facilities spread across the state likely aren’t enough, industry representatives said.