LIVE OAK, Fla. — If Suwannee County officials receive their request, additional state assistance may be coming to help curtail the rising COVID-19 coronavirus cases at a local long-term care facility.

During a special called meeting of the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning, County Administrator Randy Harris told the board that he and Chairman Len Stapleton had requested additional assistance and oversight for the Suwannee Health and Rehabilitation Center from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.

As of Thursday morning, 91 of the county’s 105 cases were staff or residents at Suwannee Health. The county had one new case announced Thursday morning, a 43-year-old female connected to an existing case.

Harris said the outbreak at the facility has been a cause of concern for many county residents and that he didn’t make the request lightly in asking DeSantis’ office for help.

“Clearly we want everything to be done that can be done within that facility,” Harris said, adding he wasn’t indicating the facility had done anything wrong that caused the outbreak.

“We’re going to be requesting the governor appoint someone to provide some additional oversight within that facility.”

Kerry Waldron, the administrator of health for the county, in fact told the board that through assessments from his office as well as assessments and inspections from the Agency for Health Care Administration — which oversees long-term care facilities in the state — that everything appears to be in order at Suwannee Health.

Waldron said an infection preventionist visited the facility on March 30, one day after the first positive test was received from an employee, for an inspection.

Two days later, Waldron said he visited the facility along with his director of nursing and an AHCA representative, for an assessment on the facility. That following weekend, a decontamination team was on site to decontaminate several rooms and a common area, Waldron noted. That visit coincided with a nurse strike team’s visit that lasted three days.

On April 7-8, Waldron said AHCA made a surprise visit with two surveyors to conduct a complete inspection, which yielded no deficiencies.

In addition to those steps, Waldron said one of the Florida National Guard strike teams was sent to Suwannee Health to do additional testing last week. That team conducted tests on 100 residents and 38 employees.

However, Waldron said those testing kits which were sent by the state’s Emergency Operations Center, were not good. He said the health department had placed those tests on hold to not use due to known issues.

The tests conducted at the facility leaked when sent to the lab for testing and were contaminated.

Harris said he has reached out to Sen. Marco Rubio’s office about that problem and the need to ensure the tests sent out were of the highest quality.

“That did not set well with me,” Waldron said of the contaminated tests, noting he spent most of the weekend having discussions with the state EOC “pretty much demanding” that the facility be retested immediately, which occurred Tuesday.

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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