Despite an average daily increase in COVID-19 cases in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced that the state will begin allowing outdoor visitation at assisted living communities and nursing homes, regardless of whether those facilities have coronavirus cases.

DeSantis directed the state Division of Emergency Management to update the state’s emergency order on long-term care facility visitation, including removing prohibitions on children, easing restrictions on outdoor visitation, removing social distancing requirements for compassionate caregivers, and eliminating restrictions on the number of visitors.

As of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Public Health was reporting a positivity rate of 0.57% among residents and 1.08% among staff members at long-term care facilities. The  state is not including the 4,584 long-term care residents — as of Tuesday — who tested positive and were transferred from facilities. When those residents are included, the positivity rate is approximately 3.9%. 

Sept. 1, the state allowed visitation at assisted living communities and nursing homes to resume as long as facilities had not had any new cases in the previous 14 days. The relaxation of restrictions reflected recommendations from the Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of Long-Term Care Facilities.

DeSantis said that families have been “very, very happy” to be reunited with their loved ones, adding that individuals should make decisions on whether to attend gatherings, including Thanksgiving.

The governor reiterated his commitment to sending a portion of the BinaxNow COVID-19 rapid results antigen tests from Abbott Laboratories that the state is receiving from the federal government to assisted living communities to test staff members and visitors for COVID-19. 

“This is testing with more of a purpose,” DeSantis said during a press conference last week. “The purpose may be to continue to screen the staff to make sure staff isn’t bringing it in, or with the family and friends to really be able to open the window for as much robust and safe visitation as possible.”