Thirteen employees at Seminole nursing home test positive for COVID-19

Freedom Square of Seminole said it does not have enough personal protection gear for employees. Three more patients test positive.
The remaining 39 residents are evacuated from Freedom Square of Seminole on April 17. Three nursing home residents have died of the coronavirus outbreak.
The remaining 39 residents are evacuated from Freedom Square of Seminole on April 17. Three nursing home residents have died of the coronavirus outbreak. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published April 18, 2020|Updated April 18, 2020

SEMINOLE — The nursing home at the center of an outbreak where three patients have died announced Saturday that three more patients and 13 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Michael Mason, the executive director of Freedom Square of Seminole, a sprawling retirement community, said the company sought help from the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County to help “develop more aggressive mitigation strategies" to combat the disease.

“The highly contagious nature of COVID-19 has proven to be an incredible challenge for health care facilities across the country,” Mason said in a statement. “We anticipate that we will see additional residents and employees test positive.”

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County said it received the request and will work with the center and others to slow the spread.

Mason’s announcement came a day after three patients died and ambulances lined up outside the Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation nursing home. State, local and company officials agreed to shut down the facility and evacuate the 39 remaining residents to local hospitals.

Of those transferred from the facility Friday, at least three patients have tested positive, the statement said. In the past few days, the company said it notified 237 employees who were associated with the nursing home and could have been exposed to the virus. Of the employees notified, 91 have been tested, Mason said, adding the company “will share full results once testing is complete.”

The nursing home’s outbreak reveals how quickly COVID-19 can spread in a facility filled with those most vulnerable to it.

On Friday, a nurse told the Tampa Bay Times the company had not been forthcoming in sharing information with employees, patients and their relatives.

Freedom Square, the nurse said, has lacked masks and gowns for weeks and many nurses and certified nursing assistants have resorted to buying their own equipment — if they can find it. As the outbreak has grown, the nurse said employees fear for their safety because protocols, such as disinfecting many common areas, are not in place to minimize the virus spread.

Mason’s statement confirmed the shortages in personal protective equipment, saying the supply of “more desirable” disposal gowns and N-95 face masks are limited.

“We have an abundant supply of cloth gowns and KN-95 face masks,” Mason wrote. “We are working to purchase more (personal protective equipment) and are working with our corporate partner and national association in these efforts.”

Related: Pinellas nursing home evacuated after outbreak; 3 dead from coronavirus

Mason thanked first responders, hospitals and local health officials for helping. He vowed to continue to disclose more information to the public.

The first confirmed case of a resident was a man hospitalized on April 5, according to the medical examiner. He tested positive on April 9 for COVID-19. He died the next day.

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Then on Tuesday, Freedom Square officials said they transferred 38 nursing home patients to three local hospitals. Some were confirmed to have COVID-19, officials said, while others had symptoms or had come into contact with patients who displayed symptoms. Freedom Square said on Thursday that 21 residents and six staffers had tested positive.

Family members, attorneys and advocates have sounded alarms about the delays in residents and the public being informed about the outbreak.

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