Nursing homes around Florida began inoculating patients and staff Wednesday against COVID-19 with doses of the first U.S.-approved vaccine against the disease that has killed more than 20,000 people in the state.
At the John Knox Village near Fort Lauderdale, 90 of the 100 residents of its skilled-nursing facility were getting vaccinated Wednesday. The village has about 1,000 residents overall with most living independently in homes or apartments with others in assisted living. The state says three village residents have died of the virus, but Mark Rayner, its director of health services, disputed that number. He said the three had recovered and died of other causes.
Rayner said none of the skilled nursing patients had gotten the disease and one employee who contracted COVID-19 has since recovered. The patients in the six-story facility have individual apartments, with 12 people per unit who come together for meals and socializing. Rayner said that layout, social distancing, protective equipment for staff and daily testing have kept the virus at bay.
Resident Vera Leip, 88, was set to get her vaccination Wednesday. Liep, who taught elementary school in Ferguson, Missouri, for 40 years, said she was excited to get her shot.
“I hope it will help me from getting COVID,” she said. “I don’t know if it (the vaccines) will help or not. I hope they do. … I don’t know anything about it (the disease), but I would prefer not to have it.” She said even with the pandemic, she has been able to visit with her two daughters, her son and three grandchildren. They meet in designated areas or outdoors and she has given them hugs.
“I don’t know if I was supposed to, but I did,” she laughed.
Such homes have borne the brunt of the state’s outbreak, with 7,765 of its 20,365 confirmed deaths reported there. Thirty-nine Florida nursing homes have had two dozen or more deaths among residents and staff, including a nursing home in the South Florida community of Hialeah with 70 resident deaths.
Florida is receiving about 180,000 doses of the initial Pfizer vaccine approved for emergency use, and hospitals around the state began vaccinating front-line health workers Monday. Several nursing homes began the jabs on Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has focused much of his pandemic messaging around protecting nursing homes. Previously, the state had imposed early restrictions on visitations and barred the return from hospitals of virus-positive patients unless those facilities had COVID-19 wards. With Florida’s high percentage of retirees and a large number of nursing homes, the toll on the elderly was an acute concern early in the pandemic.
In some early periods, about 50 percent of the deaths in Florida were linked to nursing homes. That figure has now been brought down to 38 percent of the total, just a tad below the national average of 39 percent computed by the Covid Tracking Project.
Florida has the second-highest nursing home population in the country behind California. However, the percentage of its population living in long-term health facilities is only 23rd in the nation.
At John Knox Village, Rayner said the facility is not requiring employees to get the vaccine and only 80 of the 200 employees in the skilled nursing facility have volunteered for the first wave. He said many of those who had declined were Black employees who said they didn’t trust it.
“They are frightened,” he said. “There is that culture line.”
COVID-19 vaccination rolls out in Florida nursing homes