COVID deaths at Florida nursing homes doubled during Thanksgiving holiday, AARP says
The rate at which Florida nursing home residents died from COVID-19 more than doubled during the Thanksgiving holiday season, according to a new AARP report. This is a sign that coronavirus-related deaths will continue to affect long-term care facilities. Vaccines are still in their early stages.
In the three weeks before and after the November vacation, 4.7 out of 1,000 nursing home residents in the state died, up from 2.3 in 1,000 in the four weeks leading up to November 15. The analysis also found an increase in cases among residents and staff over the same period up to December 6th.
To date, more than 7,900 Florida residents and elderly care workers have died of COVID-19, according to state data.
Still, Florida is still well below the national average, with a death rate of 15.3 per 1,000 people. South Dakota had the deadliest nursing home rate at 59.1 in 1,000 residents.
The report is compiled from self-reported data from nursing homes to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as part of the AARP nursing home's monthly published COVID-19 dashboard. Other geriatric care facilities such as assisted living facilities or independent shared apartments are not included.
Experts and officials are also warning families to avoid travel and other large gatherings during the holidays, as fears will increase cases and deaths in the first few weeks of the New Year.
"Public health experts had warned Americans that cases would increase as families travel and visit each other over Thanksgiving, and the numbers reported have proven those warnings to be accurate," said Jeff Johnson, AARP's Florida State Director, in an explanation.
He added that "better news may be on the way once the vaccinations are introduced," nursing homes continue to face serious risks in the short term.
The AARP, the country's largest nonprofit advocating for the elderly, is also urging Florida lawmakers to prioritize testing and personal protective equipment for residents and employees, and to ensure strict monitoring of nursing homes. Proponents also urge the state to decline any immunity from liability for long-term care facilities, a measure advocated by geriatric care industry associations.
The surge also comes when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that the state would prioritize Florida seniors over 70 before vaccinating key and frontline workers. This decision contradicts the recommendations of the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The vaccines are being used where the risk is greatest, and so are our older populations," DeSantis said at a press conference Tuesday at The Villages retirement community in central Florida. "We will not put young, healthy workers in front of our older, vulnerable population."
Florida had already vaccinated 49,932 people on Tuesday. No one received the second dose of the two Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna, both of which use messenger RNA technology and require two doses.
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