FORT MYERS, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that current restrictions on visitation policies at long-term care facilities across the state will be loosened to allow residents more time with their family and friends in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Fort Myers, the governor laid out four main updates he’s ordered the Department of Emergency Management to make to the visitation policy: Allowing children to visit, allowing outdoor visits in facilities in which there are active COVID-19 cases, clarifying that compassionate caregivers are not required to abide by social distancing rules and eliminating the five-visitor maximum and instead allowing facilities to choose their own visitor limits.
Facilities across the state shut their doors to visitors in mid-March to stop COVID-19 from infecting the state’s most vulnerable population. The governor lifted that ban in September, citing the toll the lack of family, friends and physical touch has had on residents in those facilities.
The new changes will be in place before the Thanksgiving and winter holidays.
“I think this is a good step forward for some of our most vulnerable folks. I think the families have done a great job. I think everyone wants a safe environment, but they also want to have an environment where there’s a lot of love, and a lot of caring, a lot of connection and I think that we’ve gone a long way to get there. This gets us a little bit further in that direction and I know that, you know, hopefully this will bring a lot of relief to a lot of folks," DeSantis said.
As of Thursday, there are 807 COVID-19 positive residents and 2,494 positive staff members in long-term care facilities across the state, according to figures from the Florida Department of Health. A month ago, on Sept. 23, those numbers were 1,999 and 2,948, respectively.
When asked if he would reinstate restrictions if Florida sees another spike like the one in July when daily coronavirus case counts were between 10,000 and 15,000, the governor said he doesn’t plan on rolling anything back.
“So I think with this visitation, we have the tools that we need. We’ve got the PPE, we’ve got the testing capabilities and we’re going to trust them to continue to move forward so we are not going to revoke any of this. These facilities, if they have situations they obviously can make decisions that’s in the best interest of their residents and their families and I support them doing that,” DeSantis said.
He went on to claim that there was no real difference in the incidence rate of outbreaks in facilities that had more stringent rules and those that didn’t.
To help quell any more potential outbreaks, DeSantis also said he’s also planning to continue sending more 15-minute rapid tests so they can be used on residents, staff and visitors.
“This is something that if you have, especially as the holidays come, if you have residents that may want to go home for the holidays or maybe they have people come visit here, we’re going to keep sending these to these facilities, so you can test the visitors and your staff as much as you want to. We’re going to keep supplying these tests for you,” the governor said.