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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Investigators Blame Spread Of Coronavirus, Two Deaths At Broward Facility On Employees

Exterior of assisted living facility with vehicles in front of it
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Florida investigators say two residents of the Atria Wildwood assisted living facility in Broward Co. died from COVID-19, and five more tested positive, after it was spread by people who worked there.

Two residents of a Broward County assisted living facility have died from COVID-19, and at least five more have tested positive for the virus after it was spread by people who worked there, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday.

DeSantis sounded exasperated that one facility serving seniors had so many infections.

“What the investigation has found out is that construction workers, staff and cooks who were ill were not screened and allowed to go work their jobs and mix with the residents unimpeded,” DeSantis said during a late Friday afternoon news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center. “That is exactly what you are not supposed to do.”  

Another six residents who live at the Atria Willlow Wood facility have been tested for the virus and the results are pending, DeSantis said, adding that he has requested the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to imbed an infection-control specialist  at the facility.

As of Friday evening, Florida had 563 cases of COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory virus. The death toll, including one non-Florida resident, stood at 11.

The second resident of Atria Willlow Wood to die from COVID-19 was a 92-year-old Broward County resident, the state said Friday. Florida had previously said a 77-year old resident died.

The announcement Friday makes real one of health officials’ biggest fears since the pandemic came to the state: community spread of the virus in long-term care facilities that house frail and elderly seniors. Florida has nearly 700 nursing homes and more than 3,000 assisted living facilities. 

And the Broward facility isn’t alone in dealing with the issue.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew acknowledged Wednesday that 19 long-term care facilities across the state had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. The state won’t say where those facilities are located.

A Seattle-area nursing home where the virus ran rampant is reportedly responsible for more than 30 deaths in Washington state.

“If you are an operator of one of these facilities, you need to take responsibility to protect your residents,” DeSantis said. “This is a virus that is in certain communities spreading in Florida, and Broward is one of them and you need to take action to protect your people.”

The state initially asked long-term care facilities to screen visitors before allowing them into buildings. Then it banned visitors at long-term care facilities in Broward County. But as the virus continued to spread, the ban was extended statewide.

Meanwhile, AHCA on Wednesday sent an advisory to long-term care facilities advising them that anyone who enters the buildings must wear masks. Moreover, the edict requires gloves to be worn when care is provided to residents. The directive also stresses that people should “continue to perform hand hygiene prior to donning gloves, after removing gloves, and anytime there is contact with the resident environment.”

But on Friday AHCA said it would not fine nursing homes that can’t come into compliance with the requirements.

Also Friday, DeSantis issued an emergency order suspending non-essential elective medical procedures at all hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers and doctors’ offices to help conserve personal protection equipment --- such as gloves and  masks used in surgery --- for efforts to contain and treat the virus.

The executive order describes medically unnecessary services as non-urgent or non-emergency procedures or surgeries, which, if delayed, do not risk patients’ health or, if delayed, will not contribute to the worsening of life-threatening medical conditions.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services had already recommended providers limit all non-essential elective medical and surgical procedures, and Florida hospitals had moved to do the same.

The Florida Hospital Association Board of Trustees on Thursday voted to postpone elective surgeries and procedures and recommended that facilities and providers refer to American College of Surgeons’ triage guidelines.