After six months of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities being closed to visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday approved a plan to reopen them.
The governor’s decision is his acceptance of the recommendations from a nursing home task force. Some of the ground rules are that relatives can visit no more than two at a time; no minor children allowed; and the wearing of masks and other protective gear.
“Our top priority from the very beginning was protect our most vulnerable,” said DeSantis. “COVID-19 disproportionately infects folks who are elderly, particularly those who are elderly that have underlying health issues. So we had to make decisions very early on in March about how do you approach this.”
To be eligible to open, facilities will need to go 14 days without any new COVID-19 cases. Speaking in Orlando, DeSantis said regular human contact is part of a “healthy society.”
“And many of the folks understand that they have loved ones who are in the last stage of their life,” said the governor. “They’re not demanding a medical miracle; they’re not having unrealistic expectations. They just would like to be able to say goodbye, or to hug somebody.”
“To try and protect and guard against the virus from getting into the facility, we made that painful decision around visitation,” said Mary Mayhew, Sec. of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees nursing home and long-term facilities.
“What we also understood is that no one could stop the clock; and that family members have been praying for this time,” Mayhew said. “We understand that the restriction on visitation is absolutely counter to everything we promote. The human touch is absolutely critical.”
Saying that “no one should go this long without a hug,” Mayhew praised the task force for their findings and recommendations.
“Balancing our concerns against the need to support safe visitation,” said Mayhew. “I am confident that, as people were able to visit with their loved ones, that there will be adherence to hand hygiene [and] wearing a face mask.”
For Gov. Ron DeSantis, reopening nursing homes is part of the fight to get back to as normal as possible – both personally and economically – once again, the “healthy society” argument.
“Keeping the economy going, which we’ve done over the last couple of months, continuing to add jobs,” DeSantis said. “Giving parents the option to send people [sic] in person for K-12 instruction. It means having universities that have students in person. Because I don’t think you can fight a pandemic very well when society is in the fetal position.”
As of Tuesday, Escambia County has reached 200 deaths related to coronavirus, with Santa Rosa reporting 57 total, according to the Florida Department of Health. Of those, 99 were in long-term care facilities – 89 in Escambia, 10 in Santa Rosa.