Just last month, COVID-19 case numbers in nursing homes were on a steady decline across the country, as shown in the most recent COVID-19 dashboard released by AARP.

Florida was following the same trend — until now.

What You Need To Know

  • COVID cases are rising in nursing homes in Florida and across the country

  • The numbers had been declining

  • Heath expert points to COVID variants low staff vaccination rates as possible explanations

Spectrum News has been monitoring the numbers from the state, and after a plateau at the end of March, the numbers of resident cases have started to rise again over the last two weeks. There is also a slight uptick in the staff case rate as well. 

“It is something to be concerned about,” said Dr. Lindsay Peterson, with USF’s School of Aging Studies. “I was just on a call with some assisted living facility administrators who are terrified at the prospect of cases beginning to go up again.”

Peterson points to new, more infectious variants as one of the reasons for the turnaround.

“These variants are much more contagious,” Peterson said. “So the spread would be happening much faster.”

However, Peterson said low staff vaccination rates could also be part of the problem. The rate hasn’t changed much since the very first long-term care clinics wrapped up in January. As of this week, the state reports only 37% of nursing home staff and just 41% of staff at assisted living facilities have received the vaccine​

However, Peterson said it’s still not the time for facilities to consider mandating it.

“Trying to force people to do things just shifts the argument into another arena and doesn’t get you any closer to solving the problem,” she said. 

Instead, Peterson recommends facilities continue to have meaningful conversations with staff members who are hesitant.

Spectrum News reached out to the Agency for Health Care Administration, the state agency that oversees long-term care facilities, to see if it had any plans for new initiatives to encourage staff to get vaccinated. 

The agency’s communications office did not directly answer that question and instead sent the following statement:

The Agency continues to encourage long-term care providers to educate and encourage staff and residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the various locations across the state available to receive the vaccine.  For more information about the distribution of the vaccine, the Division of Emergency Management and Department of Health can share more information about the distribution of the vaccine throughout Florida.