Florida nursing homes urged to take coronavirus precautions

COVID-19 appears more deadly to seniors, people with health conditions

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, Public Health Seattle & King County public health nurse Eileen Benoliel demonstrates how she fits her health care provider mask in her office, in Seattle. Hundreds of people in the United States and thousands around the world are in quarantine at home as authorities try to curb the spread of the virus. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) (Elaine Thompson, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASEE, Fla. – AARP Florida on Monday urged the state to provide “adequate supplies of protective wear” to ensure employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities remain safe and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“With nearly 700 Florida nursing homes and many more assisted living facilities housing about 160,000 older residents, Florida should lead the way in preparing for the spread of this disease,” AARP State Director Jeff Johnson said in a prepared statement.

Johnson’s concerns came as the virus, known as COVID-19, has killed six people in Washington state, Ettore Palazzo, chief medical and quality officer at the hospital EvergreenHealth said at a news conference Monday. Part of the focus is on a long-term care facility in Kirkland, Wash. The Washington Post reported that four COVID-19 deaths have been linked to the nursing home.

Globally, the virus has killed more than 3,000 people --- most of them from China, where the virus started --- and appears more deadly to frail people, seniors and people with underlying health conditions.

A World Health Organization report indicates that death rates from the virus for people age 80 or older could be 10 times higher than the overall population.

The AARP statement followed Gov. Ron DeSantis’s announcement that two Florida residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, Florida Department of Health Deputy Secretary Shamarial Roberson told The News Service of Florida that the state has protective gear, including masks and N95 respirators, which are designed to specifically fit to people’s faces. The department didn’t provide information about the numbers of masks.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told members of Congress last week that his agency estimates it may need as many as 300 million masks to slow the spread of the virus. It has about 30 million masks, he said.

Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, told the News Service that all nursing homes have traditional masks and personal protective equipment for infection control. But the N95 masks, she said, are less common.

“Right now, our members are trying to up their supply of the N95-type masks as part of their planning, and our business partners have said they are working to stockpile their reserves of these masks,” Knapp said.

She said the association has established a dedicated coronavirus web page and has scheduled calls with nursing homes, which is similar to what it does during hurricane preparation. Moreover, she said the association is working closely with the state and federal government to “monitor the virus and communicate updated information and ongoing resources to our members.”