DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — As the number of deaths from COVID-19 has increased at the Chautauqua Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a spokeswoman for the facility’s operator is insisting that the facility is taking aggressive steps against any spread of the serious respiratory illness.
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Chatauqua recorded its ninth death from COVID-19 as of late Tuesday morning, according to state and local health officials. The latest death is a 73-year-old male, according to state data. The death of an 81-year-old man at Chautauqua was reported Sunday
Ann Wilder, communications manager for Signature HealthCARE, the Kentucky-based healthcare company that operates Chautauqua, used a Friday email — sent in response to Thursday questions from the Daily News to note the COVID-19 recoveries at Chautauqua.
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“While we deeply mourn the losses we have had, we greatly celebrate the successes from this protocol and our eight resident recoveries and eight staff recoveries,” Wilder wrote.
“Our approach has been reviewed and our staff applauded by involved government agencies,” Wilder continued.
As of Sunday — the latest state data available early Tuesday afternoon — there were 27 positive COVID-19 residents at Chautauqua, and 30 staff members had also tested positive for the disease.
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In other comments in the email, Wilder reiterated an explanation, offered a couple of weeks ago to the Daily News as deaths began occurring at Chautauqua, of how the facility is addressing the COVID-19 situation.
Actions at Chautauqua include — “and will continue to include,” Wilder wrote last week — facility-wide testing of residents and staff, daily screening of residents for symptoms of the virus, restricting visitation and having family members use social media and cards and letters to communicate with loved ones.
In addition, Wilder said, Signature HealthCARE is “in close contact with our medical director, as well as our infectious disease nurse and physician, who are providing us guidance.”
Also according to Wilder, Chautauqua has had state Agency for Health Care Administration infection control surveys, neither of which found any deficiencies. Additionally, she noted, Chautauqua had a Department of Veterans Affairs Infectious Control Task Force stay at Chautauqua for a week. The task force, Wilder said, “confirmed our current practices and protocols met all guidelines and standards.”
Wilder also said staffing has not been an issue at Chautauqua in connection with the spread of COVID-19 in the facility.
“Currently, no staff has left for fear of the virus,” Wilder wrote. “In fact, some of the staff that initially tested positive, returned to their calling after two negative tests ... to fight the very virus that fought them.”
In other COVID-19-related developments in Walton County, Holly Holt, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Walton County, told county commissioners at their Tuesday meeting that out of the nearly 1,200 free COVID-19 tests administered at three drive-through testing sites around the county in recent days, just six people tested positive for the disease.
“That gives us a really good idea of what is going on in our community, as of last week,” Holt said. But, she added, “We know things can change day by day by day.”
Still, Commissioner Tony Anderson was taken aback by the low number of positive tests.
“I’m shocked,” he said. “I expected a hundred or better.”
Current plans for testing in Walton County include another visit to Santa Rosa Beach, the first drive-through test site in South Walton, sometime within the next four to five weeks, Holt said.
Reasons for returning to that part of the county include the recent reopening of short-term rental accommodations and the partial reopening of some businesses, along with the increased tourist presence at and near the beaches, Holt explained.
“Just because of the tourism and other things that are going on, people are coming in,” Holt told commissioners.
Holt went on to caution commissioners with regard to any ongoing optimism about the results of the drive-through testing.
“With so many things opening up, it’s going to be interesting to see what’s going to happen in about a month,” she said.