JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As COVID-19 cases surge again, there's a new push to get nursing home staff vaccinated. Less than half, roughly 42 percent, of nursing home staff are vaccinated in Florida, according to AARP.
Nearly one third of deaths from the pandemic are linked to nursing homes. Almost 200,000 people died.
"There's a beauty shop again, the dining room is open," said senior living resident Louis Chepenick. "I think people were feeling better, and then we started hearing about the variant."
Chepenick and her husband made it through mild cases of COVID-19 to the vaccine in December. They live at River Garden Senior Services, where over 90 percent of residents are vaccinated. Around 80 percent of their staff are vaccinated, which is double the average of vaccinated nursing home staff in Florida.
"I thought by this time in the summer that things would be looking a little bit more like they were before the pandemic," said Mauri Mizrahi, CEO of River Garden Senior Services. "I think what's discouraging to everybody is we really don't see an end in sight."
Florida is second to last in the country for the number of nursing home staff vaccinated. Cases among them are going up. Florida Department of Health data shows the rate of COVID-19 among nursing home staff is six times what it was a month ago. Luckily there has not been an increase in the number of residents dying.
COVID-19 precautions never lifted at River Garden. Duval County has one of the highest positivity rates in the state, 25.7 percent. Nassau County is at 25.4 percent.
Matthew Barger, the executive director of Osprey Village Senior Services in Nassau County, has been watching the COVID-19 positivity rate in the community.
"Around that 25 percent positivity rate again, which is just scary for us," he said.
Barger says almost 99 percent of his members are vaccinated, but the number of staff vaccinated is half of that. They increased some visitation restrictions last week.
"I went out and really tried to educate one on one with my staff," Barger said. "And actually had three team members reach out to me this week and say, 'Hey, I changed my mind, I'm going to get vaccinated,' which is fantastic. We have 127 team members here so three is a pretty small amount, but every little bit helps."
River Garden had a robust education campaign about the COVID-19 vaccine that changed some staff members' minds months ago. Hear from those staff members here.
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