Long-term care COVID-10 deaths top 7,000

The number of Florida long-term care residents and staff members who have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic topped 7,000 on Sunday, while the state saw an overall jump of more than 10,000 cases of the infectious disease.

The 7,002 reported long-term care deaths --- the vast majority involving residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities --- was a grim reminder of the toll that COVID-19 has taken on seniors and people with underlying health conditions. About 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Florida during the pandemic have been linked to long-term care facilities, according to state data.

Florida also reported an overall increase of 10,105 COVID-19 cases Sunday, as it and other states face a wave of infections. During the week-long period that ended Sunday, Florida added 41,304 cases and 397 deaths of residents, bringing the overall death toll of residents to 17,518.

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The spike in cases also has been reflected in hospitalizations. As of mid-afternoon Sunday, the state reported 3,118 people hospitalized because of “primary” diagnoses of COVID-19. That was up from 2,777 a week earlier and 2,117 a month earlier, according to numbers compiled daily by The News Service of Florida from the state Agency for Health Care Administration website.

State leaders have said since the early days of the pandemic that they have been particularly worried about the virus getting into nursing homes and assisted living facilities and spreading among vulnerable residents.

Florida Department of Health numbers detail the disparity of how the disease affects seniors and younger people. As of Sunday, 14.7 percent of the overall Florida resident cases involved people 65 or older. But that group made up about 82.4 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. By contrast, people under age 35 made up 40.8 percent of the cases --- but less than 1 percent of the deaths.

The largest numbers of long-term care deaths have been in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which have been hotspots for COVID-19. Those two counties as of Sunday had a reported 1,589 long-term care deaths, or 22.7 percent of the statewide total.

But deaths have occurred throughout the state, in large, mid-sized and rural counties. As of Sunday, 21 counties had at least 100 reported long-term care deaths, Department of Health numbers show.

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The state has taken a variety of steps to try to curb the spread of the disease in long-term care facilities, including closing them to visitors for months. But Gov. Ron DeSantis in September allowed visitation to resume, with certain guidelines.

The senior-advocacy group AARP released a report last week that showed Florida had made improvements in curtailing the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes during a four-week period that ended Oct. 18. For example, Florida nursing homes reported an average of two active COVID-19 cases for every 100 residents, better than the nationwide average of 2.8 active cases per 100 residents.

But AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson warned that the recent uptick of COVID-19 cases statewide could have adverse impacts for nursing homes.

“Unfortunately, there is no reason to look at this data and conclude that the pandemic no longer poses a risk to frail and vulnerable older Floridians,” Johnson said. “We must keep our guard up, especially if the virus once again is on the rise this winter.”

--- News Service staff writer Christine Sexton contributed to this report.