Florida coronavirus: Nursing homes on lockdown 67 days and counting

8 On Your Side

Families, nursing home advocates calling for more testing to allow safe visits

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As businesses and public spaces start to reopen, one segment of the population remains on lockdown.

Residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been cut off from family for 67 days and counting. And, as 8 On Your Side discovered, the isolation is taking a significant toll.  

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order that prohibited outside visitors to long-term care facilities on March 15. It was a proactive move to protect Florida’s seniors.  

“I just want to see my dad, I just want to see my father,” said Victoria Cerrone. “He’s got to be really scared and confused.”

Cerrone’s story is familiar. Her 84 year-old father is in a memory care facility in South Florida.

It’s clear COVID-19 is deadly and the elderly need protection. But viewers, like Cerrone, tell 8 On Your Side the isolation is taking a significant toll on residents.

“His morale is down and he cries, he cries a lot,” said Cerrone.

Every day, it’s getting worse.

“We’re emotionally exhausted and something needs to change,” she said. “I know that rapid testing exists.”

Families and nursing home advocates say the solution is simple: Continuously test residents, staff and visitors.

Brian Lee, the executive director of Families for Better Care, is calling for a lasting solution: Test machines on-site at each home permanently.

“If there were tests on site, families could go and visit their loved ones,” said Lee.

Florida has been praised for its nursing home response.

We’ve heard about the VA, the National Guard and a mobile RV traveling the state to conduct testing. But according to the state’s own numbers, less than one out of five residents have been tested.

“We need to integrate accelerate rapid testing,” said Cerrone. “I don’t see any other way.”

Cerrone wants to see her dad face-to-face. She’s worried he’s going downhill fast.

This week, the feds put out reopening guidelines for nursing homes to guide states and municipalities.

The governor’s office tells 8 On Your Side there’s no set date to reopen these facilities yet.

In recent days, Gov. DeSantis has said he understands the impact of isolation and Florida is working towards a solution.

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