SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – There is a sense of relief among the residents and staff at Sumter Senior Living facilities in The Villages after the results of last week’s voluntary tests are in and out of the more than 300 tests, not one came back positive for COVID-19.
“It was a busy couple of days doing testing, but definitely worth the wait to get the results that we got - zero COVID-19 cases in our community,” said Jamie Lillard, director of sales at Sumter Senior Living. “We have taken a lot of precautions. We’ve been really practicing the social distancing, cut back on dining, delivering the meals, we made a lot of changes to protect our residents.”
Jeanne Jones, 74, lives at Sumter Grande, the independent living side of the facility, and says she’s thankful the voluntary test she took came back negative.
“That’s really good news,” Jones said. “We stay active, I think that’s what it is.”
Jones says she comes from a nursing background and says she is thankful Premier Medical Associates offered the voluntary tests in the first place.
“Them coming to us and doing us all in one day, it was absolutely the best thing that could have happened to us,” Jones said. “I think everyone in this building thinks it’s wonderful.”
However, Jones says she still plans on following her heightened precautions despite her negative test results and will continue practicing social distancing.
"We're not ready yet," said Jones. "I think we need the numbers to come down."
As of Monday afternoon, the Florida Department of Health shows 173 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Sumter County. The latest numbers show Sumter County among the three with the lowest number of cases in the Central Florida region, even with a higher number of senior citizens living in their communities, especially in the 55+ community of The Villages.
Last week, Premier Medical Associates started offering voluntary tests to those working and living in senior living centers in The Villages, including any and all skilled nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and independent senior living centers that wanted them.
Both Sumter Senior Living and Buffalo Crossings were the first to sign up, after concerns about community spread and asymptomatic cases started growing.
Buffalo Crossings confirmed they had one patient at their rehabilitation facility test positive for COVID-19 earlier in the month.
But so far, all the voluntary tests taken have come back negative.
When asked why there aren’t any new cases, a registered nurse with Premier Medical Associates explained it is because the people living and working at the tested facilities were following the rules of the state’s safer-at-home order and taking heightened precautions.
“I think because of their age, and they like their lifestyle, that they understand this is a small price to pay for being safe,” said Eve Harris, an Advance Practice Registered Nurse for PMA. “I really believe it is because they are listening and staying in place, and not going, ‘It won’t bother me - it’s for someone else to worry about.' I really think we are able to keep those numbers low is because people are washing their hands, maintaining a six foot distance, and wearing a mask.”
Harris says she fears this may give some a false sense of security and cause them to ease up on social distancing, something she says they shouldn’t do.
"We may be on the upswing, but we are nowhere near over it," said Harris.
Lillard confirms even with the recent results, Sumter Senior Living plans on keeping their social distancing, health and hygiene measures in place. She says they will continue doing things like temperature checks at the front door, having people fill out medical questionnaires, and keeping the communal dining room and other communal areas closed for now or at least until the governor and his Re-Open Florida Task Force give them guidance on when they can reopen.