Florida coronavirus: Top US health officials call for ‘surveillance’ of all nursing homes

8 On Your Side

WASHINGTON (WFLA) – 8 On Your Side is investigating how to stop coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes before they happen. It was a hot topic at a hearing before the Senate’s health committee on Tuesday.

The hearing was the first chance lawmakers had to publicly question officials in Congress since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The nation’s top doctors testified remotely about a range of concerns, including long-term care facilities.  

In the United States, one out of three people who have died from this virus came from a nursing home. The victims are both residents and staff members.

“Clearly the long-term care facilities have been particularly hard-hit,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This is critical we get in front of this and do comprehensive surveillance of everybody in these nursing homes.”

Surveillance means testing people and tracking the results, according to public health officials.

Senators had questions about surveillance of these facilities nationwide.

The White House is now recommending that all nursing home residents and staff be tested in the next two weeks.

New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan had a question for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor.

“After that, what will the ongoing federal recommendations look like?” Sen. Hassan asked. “How frequently do we need to test patients and staff on a continuing basis?”

Like Redfield, Dr. Fauci also stressed the need for surveillance capability.

“General testing for all, I think, is a good start,” said Dr. Fauci. “But when you look where you going to go in the future, there has to be a considerable degree of surveillance capability.”

Back here in Florida, 8 On Your Side has been working to increase transparency at nursing homes throughout the pandemic.

Overall, the virus has hit South Florida the hardest. But Tampa Bay tops the list of fatalities at specific nursing homes. 8 On Your Side pressed the state to release this list that includes the number of deaths at each facility.

Three nursing homes, located in Pinellas, Manatee and Polk counties, have had the highest number of deaths statewide.

8 On Your Side is working to get more information about the way Florida is conducting testing at nursing homes.

Since April 27, the state has also been hiding the cumulative number of cases at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Public health experts say testing, tracking and transparency is  key to protecting seniors.

If you have a tip about a nursing home, e-mail investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com

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