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COVID-19 cases in FL nursing homes largely kept secret

More than 1,000 workers and residents at FL long term care centers have tested positive for COVID-19 but good luck finding out which ones
Posted at 9:19 AM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 10:02:12-04

They are among the community’s most at-risk to the spread of COVID-19. Residents in Florida’s mor than 4000 nursing homes and assisted living facilities are so vulnerable to the disease, Florida was one of the first states to lock the centers down.

But still, the virus invaded.

The latest state numbers show more than 1,000 residents and workers at long term care centers in the state have tested positive. To date, 53 of Florida’s 67 counties have reported at least one case in a long term care center. Experts say what’s reported is likely undercounted.

Terri McGuire’s mom is in a nursing home on Florida’s west coast. While McGuire doesn’t believe her mom is sick and hasn’t received a call that her mom is infected with the virus, if there was an outbreak where her mom lives, McGuire fears she would never know the extent of cases there. She’s right. Florida isn’t revealing which facilities have confirmed cases. McGuire believes that’s wrong.

“If this gets into a nursing home, it’s going to spread like wildfire and no-one is going to know,” she said.

Anecdotal cases of nursing home outbreaks have already been reported by news outlets around the state.

At the Braden River Rehabilitation Center in Bradenton, a local paper recently reported more than 30 patients tested positive, in addition to staff members.

Susan Karr, a spokesperson for the facility wouldn’t confirm totals but acknowledged “that a number of residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.” The facility is managed by Southern Healthcare

Management LLC, which also manages the Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center and Pinellas Point Nursing Rehab Center in Manatee County where Karr confirmed there are cases at those facilities as well. Karr said the centers are currently working with the county Health Department.

RELATED: Coronavirus spreading through elderly facilities in Palm Beach County, Treasure Coast

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a public health policy professor at the University of South Florida said the state has reasons not to make the location of confirmed cases in nursing homes public.

“I guess there’s a concern about creating panic that might not be necessary and I guess there’s a question as to what practical value there is in broadcasting that information.” But Wolfson acknowledged circumstances that would warrant more transparency.

“When it becomes a cluster than it becomes a public policy and reason to notify the people in the community that this place may be a danger and we’re going to quarantine,” he said.

Several states have, or are in the process of revealing more about its COVID-19 cases within long term care facilities. Florida, however, doesn’t appear to be headed in that direction.

At a news conference on Monday, a reporter asked Surgeon General, Dr. Scott Rivkee,s why his department isn’t revealing center locations. Rivkees didn’t answer the question and stated “individuals are notified in terms of other family members if there’s an individual with COVID-19 in that facility.”

There is no requirement that a long-term care facility must disclose to a family member the total confirmed cases in afacility. We’ve submitted a public records request to the state for details regarding center locations with confirmed cases of COVID-19 but have not heard back from the state.