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County commissioners voted to extend the county's state of emergency through Oct. 30. The extension keeps in effect a county ordinance requiring face coverings within public places, and restaurants and bars to serve only patrons who are seated.

CLEARWATER — A slight uptick in COVID-19 cases locally has county leaders and health officials concerned.

Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas, told county commissioners on Oct. 20 that COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise and urged the commission to continue to take precautions against the disease.

"We are seeing a rise in cases in our community as well as regionally," Choe said. "Our seven-day rolling case count is 137, our seven-day rolling percent positivity is 4.8% — keeping in mind a few weeks ago the case count was in the 70s and the percent positivity was at 3%."

In light of the county's upward case trend, commissioners voted to extend the county's state of emergency through Oct. 30.

The extension keeps in effect a county ordinance requiring face coverings within public places, and restaurants and bars to serve only patrons who are seated.

Choe said of the 830 COVID-19-related deaths in the county, 80% of those cases are in individuals over the age of 65.

Choe stressed the importance of getting a flu vaccine this year, urging residents to help prevent a "twindemic," which he said was increased coronavirus cases coupled with a severe flu season.

"Obviously that would ease the health care system in terms of hospitals, in terms of urgent care visits," Choe said. "It's more important to get the flu shot this year than any other year because of the similarities and the fact it would compound this issue."

Choe addressed comments that have been raised by residents who argue that the yearly flu kills more people than COVID-19.

"To be honest, I think the jury is still out on that," he said. "What people are overlooking, however, is that what isn't really argued is that it is more transmissible than the flu. Beyond that, too, we are vulnerable because we have never seen this type of virus for our bodies and immune systems."

Choe warned that some COVID-19 patients suffer from post-acute symptoms and there may be the potential for long-term neurological and cardiac consequences.

On a brighter note, Choe said mitigation efforts within Pinellas County schools appear to be working.

"In terms of the schools, I'm happy to report that there are minimum secondary transmissions," he said. "I think a lot of the preventative measures are working in the schools.

"However with schools, although it's not driving the pandemic at the schools themselves, the schools are a reflection of our community," Choe continued. "If we are to see an increase in our larger community, that it will lead to an increase in cases at our schools as well. Now is not the time to let up on some of the preventative efforts, which does include social distancing and wearing facing coverings."