As medical workers across Florida continue to battle the spread of COVID-19, an unknown number of health workers here are falling ill to the virus. But Florida’s Department of Health (FDOH) is working to change that.
In a new set of county guidelines issued late Friday, the FDOH is now requiring all healthcare providers and facilities to, “immediately report all COVID-19 cases” that involve medical workers and public safety employees including but not limited to law enforcement and firefighters.
The requirement also requires the reporting of people who live and work in long terms care facilities, senior living centers, shelters and correctional facilities who house people “at high risk of severe outcomes,” according to the guidelines from the FDOH.
The new mandate comes just one day after we discovered no one in the state was tracking medical workers and first responders who tested positive for the virus.
“It really is astonishing that we haven’t asked that question a long time ago,” said Martin Peebles, a registered nurse on Florida’s west coast.
Peebles is also a union representative for his chapter who recently spoke out about hospitals not properly equipping doctors and nurses with personal protective gear including N95 masks.
Peebles believes tracking cases involving healthcare workers is key data to stopping its spread.
“It’s pretty obvious, how are you going to manage something if you’re not tracking it?” he told us last week.
Last week, Lt. Governor Jeanette M. Nuñez addressed testing availability for health workers but made no mention of how many of them have tested positive.
“Healthcare workers are obviously at an elevated risk, so we want to make sure we have sufficient testing available,” she told us.
Governor Ron DeSantis also recently expressed his concern for health workers being exposed to the virus but couldn’t add any details quantifying just how many healthcare workers have fallen ill to the virus.
“I don’t know how many of them have tested positive. I don’t think it’s a lot that have come through our system,” he said.
“We definitely need to know the impact on healthcare workers, it speaks directly to the need for personal protective equipment and the importance of having that available to healthcare workers,” said Willa Fuller, head of Florida’s Nurses Association. By the time we spoke with Fuller on Monday, she was not aware of the new mandate.
The new tracking requirements put Florida on a a short list of states that are tracking healthcare workers infected with the virus. Most, including big cities like New York, have not been tracking cases involving its medical workers.
While it’s too soon to know just how many of the more than 13,000 positive cases reported in Florida involve healthcare workers, the new rules aim to zero in on populations considered to be most vulnerable, that is, before it’s too late.
“We need to know what the risk is to healthcare workers and even if we know by tracking from today, it would be helpful. Knowledge is power,” said Fuller.