Gov. Ron DeSantis further relaxed rules governing visits to relatives in nursing homes on Thursday and envisioned family gatherings on Thanksgiving notwithstanding COVID-19.
The governor had eased his hard ban on family visits last month and said the number of new cases in long-term residential facilities had dropped by 70 percent since then. It helped, he said, that the centers now have access to COVID antigen tests that produce results within minutes.
“I think the families have universally just been very, very happy with being able to be reunited with their loved ones,” he said during a round-table discussion at the Amavida Living facility in Fort Myers.
“I hear people say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have Thanksgiving this year or this.’ I’m just thinking to myself, ‘You know, shouldn’t individuals be in the position to make those determinations?’ And if a family is in a situation where they’re behaving in a safe way, and the facilities are doing what they need to do, we need to be able to have family connections,” DeSantis said.
His new rules remove a ban on visits to facilities by children, promote outdoor visits, underscore that there are no social distancing requirements for family members rendering care, and scrap the five-person limit on the number of visitors.
“I think everyone wants a safe environment, but they also want an environment where there’s a lot of love and a lot of caring and a lot of connection. I think we’ve gone a long way to get there. This gets us a little bit further in that direction,” DeSantis said.
Early in the pandemic, DeSantis blocked visitation to long-term facilities, ordered regular testing of staff, and offered testing for residents. That didn’t keep COVID out, he said.
“The most compassionate and humane policy is provide the tools, provide the PPE … continue to do that. But also continue to have the pathway for the families to be there for their loved ones,” DeSantis said.
“So much is focused on, ok, who tested positive yesterday, what’s the hospital situation. And that’s very important, but there’s much less attention paid to the effects of mitigation, or the effects of some of the anxiety and fear that’s permeated society over the last six or seven months,” he continued.
“I can tell you, you had folks in these facilities who had a tough time [and] when the families were able to reunite it was a real, real weight off their shoulders. But also, even outside of these facilities in the general community you’re seeing more problems with things like mental health,” including drug overdoses.
“Cooping them back up in their room, I just don’t think that that’s viable.”
As DeSantis spoke, state health officials were trying to work out COVID test reporting snafus that apparently have distorted their understanding of the pandemic’s progression in the state. The governor has long complained about labs delaying reporting of their test results to the state and then unloading large backlogs at once, giving a false impression of the pandemic’s spread.
He said he has no preference about whether the state should publicize COVID testing data daily, as has been the practice, or weekly, as some state officials have suggested. But he insisted that labs must report test results, positive or negative, in a more timely manner.
“We’ve had instances where a lab would put in three months’ worth of tests in one dump. We’ve had other times when they’ve just not put in any negatives,” DeSantis said.
“If you’re going to submit 100 positive tests, then submit the 1,000 or 1,500 negatives at the same time. Don’t submit that a week later, because it kind of upsets the apple cart a little bit.”