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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order preventing a wide array of people from visiting nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and similar sites in Florida in an effort to stop the spread of novel coronavirus among some of the state’s most vulnerable people.
Anyone who’s traveled internationally, sailed on a cruise ship, exhibits symptoms of coronavirus or has been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus is temporarily prohibited from visiting those sites, he said.
The order applies to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult family care homes, long-term care facilities and adult group homes across the state.
“These are important efforts to mitigate the risk to our most vulnerable population to COVID-19,” DeSantis said.
The order required facilities to prevent the following groups of people from visiting:
- Anyone infected with COVID-19 who hasn’t had two consecutive negative test results cannot visit the facilities.
- Anyone showing signs of a respiratory infection cannot visit.
- Any person who has or been in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19 who has not tested negative is prohibited from visiting for 14 days.
- Any person who has traveled internationally must wait for 14 days from their return to the U.S. before visiting.
- Any person who traveled on a cruise ship must wait 14 days from the date of their return before visiting.
- Any person who has been a community with confirmed “community spread” of the virus must wait 14 days from the time they left the community before visiting.
- Any person who lives in a community with confirmed community spread is prohibited from visiting.
Facilities are expected to take visitors’ temperatures and ask questions about their contacts and travels, said Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew. She said she’s personally been screened at each facility she’s visited around the state in recent days.
“The first line of defense is vigorous screening of visitors, vendors and staff,” Mayhew said. “No one is exempt from the screening.”
She said her office is visiting and inspecting any facilities that have had “issues with infection control and prevention" in the last year to make sure they’re adhering to protocols.
Coronavirus has flu-like symptoms but is more severe, with mortality rates 20 to 40 times higher than the flu for older people, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said.
Representatives for the state’s seniors have said COVID-19 is a “significant concern” and have already told facilities to screen visitors, including taking temperatures, providing hand sanitizer at the door and asking about their travels.
“Executive directors and staff should communicate their plans, prepare for worst-case scenarios, anticipate problems and consider next steps,” said Gail Matillo, president and CEO of the Florida Senior Living Association, which represents most of the state’s assisted living facilities.
Some assisted living facilities are also polling places for Tuesday’s presidential preference primary election, DeSantis said. That’s fine for people who live in those facilities, but state officials are advising elections supervisors to direct people assigned to those polling places who don’t live there to vote at other locations.
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Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch has also been authorized to impose restrictions on visitation, which should be announced soon, DeSantis said.
DeSantis reiterated Wednesday that there is no “community spread” of novel coronavirus in Florida, contradicting what a federal infectious disease expert said Tuesday. He defined community spread as multiple people in an area testing positive for the virus without knowing its source.
DeSantis said he spoke with the expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert on the federal Coronavirus Task Force, Tuesday night. He said Fauci’s comments referred to four Broward County people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Because that three-person cluster can all be linked to the cruise ship, that technically doesn’t qualify (as community spread),” DeSantis said.
On Tuesday, Fauci identified Florida as one of four states with community spread of the virus, joining California, Washington and New York.
Late Tuesday night, the state confirmed eight new cases of novel coronavirus, the biggest jump since the cases were first detected on March 1, when DeSantis declared a public health emergency.
DeSantis did not announce any new cases of the virus by 6 p.m. Wednesday. So far, 23 people have tested positive and two people have died across 12 counties in Florida. Nearly 150 tests are pending and 353 people are being monitored.
He said two private laboratories, LabCorp and Quest, are now capable of testing for the virus and the University of Florida was working on its own test, which would require federal approval before being used.
Times/Herald staff writer Samantha J. Gross contributed to this report.
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