State of emergency, face mask order still in effect in Pinellas

Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the state Department of Health in Pinellas County, told commissioners Aug. 6 that some progress was being made in the fight against COVID-19. But he asked the public not to become complacent and to continue to social distance and wear a mask.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 6 to extend the local state of emergency until Aug. 14 and to continue the order that requires residents to wear facial coverings in indoor places when social distancing isn’t possible.

The order also states that restaurants and bars operating as restaurants are only allowed to serve customers who are seated. Social distancing is required.

Before the vote, County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners that it seemed that wearing face masks and limiting large crowds at bars, along with public education was having an impact.

Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the state Department of Health in Pinellas, said overall there had been an improvement in the number of COVID-19 cases compared to last week. He said the seven-day rolling average for case counts had declined from 220-230 a day to 184, and the seven-day rolling average for the percentage of positive tests had dropped to 6% compared to 7% last week.

And after six-seven weeks of seeing higher death counts, Choe said there had been some decline in those numbers over the last two weeks. In addition, hospital capacity is stabilizing with fewer COVID-19 patients in ICU and on ventilators.

But, it’s still important to protect the county’s most vulnerable, he said.

“We’re making some headway,” he said, adding that the county still has a long way to go in the fight against the pandemic.

“If this was a football game, we’d probably only be in the second quarter,” he said.

He asked that residents not become complacent and continue to social distance and wear masks.

Commissioner Charlie Justice asked for an update on the work local emergency medical technicians and firefighters had been doing at the long-term care facilities. Choe said all of the county’s 250 facilities had been visited to check their supplies of personal protective equipment and their case management. He said the state now requires that staff be tested every two weeks.

He also said the use of dedicated COVID-19 skilled nursing facilities had taken some of the pressure off the hospitals.

Burton said the county had two “Super SNFs,” which are specialized care facilities for COVID-19 patients, and two more are expected to open soon. He said opening more testing sites had helped with hospital emergency rooms.

Burton told commissioners that the testing site at Tropicana Field would be moving north in the near future, but details were not yet available. Night hours for testing also have been added at Community Health Centers.

For more information about testing, visit https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/testing.

Dr. Angus Jameson, medical director for the county’s Emergency Medical Services, said he was proud of the work done by the EMTs and paramedics at the long-term care facilities. He also reported that call volumes were down slightly.

He remains concerned about people who are reluctant to seek help or medical care when they are sick, including those with severe disease. He continues to urge residents to call 911 or go to the hospital when they need care.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters wanted information on how residents could donate convalescent plasma, which is being used to treat COVID-19 patients. People who have recovered from the coronavirus can visit www.oneblood.org to see if they meet the eligibility requirements to be a donor. Appointments are required.

Commissioners also talked about a draft order to delegate authority to extend the state of emergency to the commission chair, vice chair or county administrator as no meetings were scheduled from Aug. 11-Sept. 3.

The consensus was that extending the state of emergency was a decision that should be made by the commission as a whole.

Burton agreed to schedule meetings as needed to consider the extensions.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.