Florida nursing home residents allowed to leave for holidays, feds recommend against it

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is allowing nursing home occupants to leave and return -- and they don't have to be tested. (Getty Images)

Nursing home residents in Florida will be allowed to leave, celebrate Thanksgiving and return to their long term care facilities, according to guidance from the state obtained by News Service Florida.

While residents will likely be screened prior to returning to their facility, testing will not be required, according to the report.

"Leaving the nursing home could increase a resident's risk of exposure to COVID-19," says guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal government agency that oversees nursing homes.

In their guidance, issued Wednesday, the agency recommended against residents leaving for the holidays, warning nursing homes should educate residents about the risks of leaving and encourage them to connect with loved ones virtually.

The Florida Health Care Association (FCHA), an advocacy group for long-term care centers, is telling their member facilities to advise families of the federal government guidance, as well as tell them to consider risk factors, like their local positivity rate, before taking a loved one out of the nursing home.

FCHA is also considering advising member facilities to quarantining residents who leave overnight for 14 days, according to Kristen Knapp, a spokesperson for the organization.

"We’re definitely seeing a surge in the nursing homes and assisted living," said Brian Lee, an advocate for nursing home safety and the Executive Director of Families for Better Care. "Whenever you start to see an uptick unfortunately that means there’s going to be deaths followed behind."

CMS also advises nursing homes or other long term care facilities to test residents who've been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms. Most nursing homes in Florida are using Abbott antigen rapid tests, sent from the federal government.

Antigen testing is effective in diagnosing coronavirus when someone is showing symptoms or slightly before the begin to show symptoms, but is is less reliable for those who were recently infected or those who are infectious but not showing symptoms, according to infectious disease expert Dr. Leslie Diaz.

"I don’t believe that nursing homes and assisted living facilities are screening people properly and I mean the right kind of test," said Lee.