Tampa Bay Times
After weeks of hesitation, the state has quietly published a list that shows how many residents and staff of long-term care facilities have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Nearly 400 nursing homes and assisted living facilities have had at least one confirmed case of the highly contagious virus, according to the state’s list. Health officials had previously provided a roster of such facilities but had not included the number of infections in each location.
The data say 2,225 residents have tested positive for the virus. The list does not include those that are no longer positive, said Katie Strickland, a spokeswoman with the Agency for Health Care Administration. It also does not include how many coronavirus-related deaths those facilities have seen.
The list also shows 1,130 staff members who have tested positive.
That would put the total current known cases in such facilities at 3,355.
That also means long-term care facilities account for at least 1 in 10 of the total known coronavirus cases in the state. But the figure is probably an undercount, given Strickland’s explanation that recovered cases are not included in the latest long-term care facility release.
As of Monday, the state said there are 32,138 total cases of the coronavirus. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths stands at 1,108, according to the Monday update.
How fast is the number of Florida COVID-19 cases growing?
Morning updates typically show low numbers for the current day.
While the state’s list of long-term care facilities does not include information about coronavirus-related deaths, a different dataset said there have been 319 deaths of residents or staff in those facilities to date. That is roughly 29 percent of the total deaths reported statewide.
The list of long-term care facilities released Monday is reported by the facilities themselves to a system maintained by the Agency for Health Care Administration. The state had been reporting data on cases in long-term care facilities based on epidemiological contact tracing, said Jason Mahon, a spokesman for the Division of Emergency Management.
He said the list will be updated every day.
The Southern Oaks Care Center in Escambia County is listed as having the highest number of confirmed cases in any facility, with 107 total confirmed cases, including 92 residents. The facility has 210 licensed beds.
Across the state, Miami-Dade has the most long-term care cases, 936, more than double the next most, 408 in Broward. Palm Beach has 260; Manatee and Pinellas fall fourth and fifth on the list, with 170 and 160 cases, respectively.
Polk is listed as having 72 confirmed cases, while Hillsborough is listed as having 47 and Pasco as having nine. Neither Hernando nor Citrus have facilities on the list.
The extent of outbreaks in long-term care facilities varies by county. In some counties, cases in such facilities make up three-quarters or more of the total reported coronavirus cases.
The Tampa Bay locations with the most severe outbreaks, according to the state list, are Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation and Nursing Services in Pinellas (73), Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center (70) and Braden River Rehabilitation Center (64) in Manatee, Highlands Lake Center in Polk (54), St. Mark Village in Pinellas (33) and Bristol at Tampa Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Hillsborough (22).
Related: Sixth and seventh COVID-19 deaths tied to Seminole nursing home
It has been difficult for reporters, loved ones and others to get information about the pandemic’s spread in long-term care facilities in Florida.
The state at first was not identifying every nursing home or assisted living facility where residents or staffers had tested positive. It then reversed course, providing lists without breakdowns of the numbers of cases.
Since the facility names were released, the debate about what more information should be included has continued. Transparency and resident advocates have maintained that releasing detailed information about the number of cases in each facility is essential in helping the public know the scope of the problem.
“It is a step in the right direction,” said Barbara Petersen, president emeritus of the First Amendment Foundation. “It’s something they should have done all along. I don’t know what took them so long.”
But others have pushed back against releasing such details.
For instance, the Department of Health in Pasco last week declined to provide the number of positive cases at Royal Oak Nursing Center in Dade City.
Melissa Watts, spokeswoman for the department, said that information was exempt from public disclosure under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which ensures information about patients remains private.
According to the information released Monday by state health officials, Royal Oak has three residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, plus four residents who have tested positive and been transferred out of the facility. Two staff members have also tested positive.
Reporters pressed Gov. Ron DeSantis for more details Monday morning, shortly before the list was published online. At that time, DeSantis said privacy concerns slowed the state’s ability to share more information.
“I’m going to look at it and review it and see what format it’s in and I’ll release it,” DeSantis said.
Jeff Johnson, state director of AARP Florida, applauded the state Monday for disclosing the information. The release is especially helpful in light of talks and some data indicating parts of the state could re-open, Johnson said.
“There are also data points that show it’s still a very risky endeavor to be a resident in one of these long-term care facilities and that’s only going to get riskier if the rest of us go back to something that looks more like normal life,” he said.
The list has some discrepancies on it compared to previous information the state has shared. That may relate to the different ways the data is collected.
For instance, as recently as Sunday, the state said there were 181 confirmed cases in Manatee County long-term care facilities. The list released Monday includes only 170 cases, even though it shows three additional facilities that weren’t previously on the state’s list.
Meanwhile, the data include no facilities in Hernando County, although state data has previously reported two confirmed cases in long-term care facilities there. A facility in Citrus County that had previously been on the state’s list no longer appears, possibly because the infected person is no longer positive.
The state data also does not comport with what individual facilities have reported. For instance, Seminole Pavilion in Pinellas is part of the sprawling Freedom Square retirement community, where officials said as of Sunday that 36 employees had tested positive. Florida health officials appeared to report 34 employees as testing positive Monday.
Freedom Square administrators have told families at least nine residents have died.
Monday’s statewide update on where the Sunshine State stands amid the pandemic included three new deaths in the greater Tampa Bay region: an 82-year-old Hernando man, a 64-year-old Pasco man and an 87-year-old Pinellas man.
Overall, Florida reported 14 new deaths related to the coronavirus, a lower number than the number of reported deaths seen much of last week.
Florida coronavirus cases by age group
Doctors say older people are at a greater risk to developing severe symptoms from COVID-19, which makes Florida especially vulnerable.
Times staff writers Mark Puente, Josh Solomon and Justine Griffin contributed to this report.
Note: A previous version of this story cited information from a chart state officials later said was incorrect. The number of current cases has been updated.
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