U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell listens to family members whose loved ones reside at Crystal Health & Rehab Center during a sit-down inside the Roth Building in Islamorada on May 19. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

A test performed recently on U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for COVID-19 came back negative following possible exposure during a visit to a Tavernier long-term care facility.

The congresswoman went for a swab test on May 23 at the direction of the Florida Health Department and Bob Eadie, health officer of Monroe County, after she was invited inside Crystal Health & Rehab Center on Plantation Key on May 19. The next day, her office was informed that Mucarsel-Powell shouldn’t have been invited inside the facility, which has witnessed an outbreak in cases. 

Mucarsel-Powell’s visit to the nursing facility came after she visited the Keys and sat down with family members of residents living there. That meeting was held at the Roth Building in Tavernier, which sits in front of Crystal Health.

During the visit with the congresswoman, family members said they were exasperated that Crystal Health administration did not notify them of the cases in a timely manner. The Florida Health Department was notified of a positive case involving a speech pathologist around the first of May. 

Family members also expressed their anxiety in the meeting as they waited more than a week for test results to come back for their loved ones.  

Following the meeting with family members, Mucarsel-Powell called the facility to no avail — a problem many family members have experienced since the outbreak. That led to her visit to Crystal Health and Rehab Center. 

Upon her arrival, the congresswoman spoke to the facility director, Ruth Robinson, who told her that certain areas of the facility were a “safe zone.” She was invited inside to a reception area not far from where she entered. She was shown a record of communications the facility had with family members during the visit.  

Mucarsel-Powell was wearing a mask from her entry and through the duration of her visit.

“I had a little anxiety walking in, knowing there were positive COVID cases inside,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Weekly. “She (the director) assured me it was safe and I took her for her word. The fact that the director was not following guidelines and invited me into a place already identified as a red zone shows the facility is not being managed in a way to protect patients in there.”

Mucarsel-Powell subsequently spoke with Eadie and Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease expert at Florida International University. She said the two health experts believed her exposure was minimal during her visit. 

Overall, Mucarsel-Powell said her experience inside the home further validates the families’ sincere concerns for the well-being of their relatives at the facility. According to the data, one-third to one-half of all coronavirus deaths nationally are of nursing home residents or workers, and in Florida, nursing home residents and workers account for 42% of total COVID-related deaths.

In a statement released May 22, Crystal Health & Rehab Center said a state strike team entered the facility to conduct 150 tests earlier in the month after the first positive COVID-19 case was reported around the first of May. Those whose tests results were positive and their families were informed. While a number came back negative, several were found to be inconclusive. Another round of testing followed. 

Just recently, Crystal Health installed a hotline for family members to call to receive timely updates. That number is 305-363-0252.

Mucarsel-Powell said she is staying in a room away from her husband and kids. Her 81-year-old mother, who usually lives with her, is staying with another family member for now. 

“What it brings up, even for someone like myself who’s been strictly following guidelines and staying safe as possible, is that you cannot let your guard down and cannot assume the virus is not there,” she said.

Next to the Crystal Health & Rehab Center sign is a small posting that says no visitors are allowed at the facility due to the pandemic. WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

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