Guardsmen spot check for virus at Florida nursing homes

Posted at 3:28 PM, Apr 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 15:28:09-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- Members of the Florida National Guard have started on-the-spot testing of residents at nursing homes for the new coronavirus as long-term care facilities in the state have reported scores of cases, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday.

Guardsmen have conducted tests of residents and staff at nursing homes in South Florida and UF Health Shands has done other spot-testing at facilities, DeSantis said.

"We want to continue to do that, given that is the most high risk population," the governor said.

In Clay County, in the Jacksonville area, 49 cases have been reported at long-term care facilities, and 51 cases among residents and staff have been reported at a nursing home in Suwannee County, located halfway between Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Last month, DeSantis ordered a suspension of all visits to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and similar sites across the state.

As of Saturday morning, Florida had almost 18,500 coronavirus cases and 438 deaths.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death. The vast majority of people recover.

The governor also said Saturday that the state Department of Health has ordered serology tests that can probe people who aren't currently sick for coronavirus antibodies.

"There may be people who had an illness in February or March and didn't go to the doctor for it, and maybe they think, `'Maybe I had it,'" DeSantis said. "You can also spot-check and see a representative sample to see how many people in our society have the antibodies."

Separately, the governor said a stay-at-home order and the resulting reduced traffic had provided an opportunity to speed up construction on central Florida's biggest infrastructure project -- the expansion and refurbishment of Interstate 4, which stretches from Daytona Beach to Tampa. A stretch of the interstate highway that goes through the Orlando area is in the middle of a $2.3 billion overhaul. The speed-up could allow the project to finish one or two months earlier than planned, DeSantis said.

"We should take advantage of this pause," DeSantis said. "The fact that we don't have as many people on the roads, let's take advantage of that."

At Walt Disney World, company officials and two unions representing security guards and workers involved in facilities and operations reached an agreement that allows the workers to get health and educational benefits during temporary furloughs scheduled to start April 19.

In Osceola County, which includes part of Disney World, officials issued an order requiring residents and visitors to wear face masks while in public. The order goes into effect on Monday.