LARGO — One citizen who spoke during the public comment period of the Pinellas County Commission’s Aug. 24 meeting was upset because COVID-19 was not on the agenda.
“There’s a health care crisis and nothing is on the agenda,” said Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg attorney.
He wants the commission to begin its meeting with a health care update on the COVID-19 situation. He said health care workers had told him that “they feel they have no voice.”
He also requested that the county bring back its dashboard that provided statistics on cases, testing, deaths and other information. The dashboard was shut down in June not long after Florida Department of Health shut down its dashboard and stopped providing much of the information that had previously been available.
Commissioner Janet Long agreed with Wiedner and also questioned why nothing was on the meeting agenda about COVID-19.
“Are we tone deaf?” she asked. “There’s a huge issue in our state and we’re all afraid to move because of our governor. But what if he’s wrong? The least we can do is an update.”
County Administrator Barry Burton said he could do a weekly update based on what he had been told. He said he would like to reinstate the dashboard, but since they information was no longer available from the state, they would have to get it from each individual hospital. He said he would look into it.
He said COVID was serious in Pinellas and it was overwhelming local hospitals.
The seven-day average positivity rate was 20.6%, he said, which was higher than the state average. The county was reporting about 833 cases a day over the last seven days and an average of 45-54 deaths. Burton said the numbers exceed last summer.
According to a report released by the Florida Department of Health on Aug. 27 for the week of Aug. 20-26, the new case positivity rate dropped to 18%, down from 20.6% reported the week of Aug. 13-19.
The report also showed that the county’s case count had increased by 6,790 during the week, an average of 970 a day, which was an increase from the 6,271, or 898 a day, reported for the week of Aug. 13-19. No information was provided on deaths.
The county’s cumulative case count since March 2020 was up to 114,284.
“We’re doing all we can,” Burton said. “We’re pushing the vaccine.”
Still about 80% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. He said the health care system is stressed with patients and staff infected with COVID. About 60% of the county ages 12 and up have taken at least one shot of vaccine with 58% taking both shots.
He is hopeful that some of those who didn’t think the shot was safe would consider getting one now that the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the Federal Drug Administration.
A recent survey asking the unvaccinated what it would take to get them to get the shot had shown the No. 1 response to be if it were FDA approved. Burton repeated that the vaccine is now approved. The second more common response was if a family member got sick.
Burton said Pinellas was working to increase its testing capabilities, including opening a site in north county.
He said the governor had announced a new monoclonal antibody treatment site in Pinellas. The site at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 409 South Old Coachman Road in Clearwater, is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. It has a capacity to serve about 300 patients a day.
The treatments can be prescribed by a health care provider to individuals age 12 and older who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19 and are at high risk for severe illness and hospitalization.
There is currently a standing order from the state’s surgeon general that allows patients to receive the treatment without a prescription or referral is administered by an eligible health care provider. The treatments are available at no cost. The treatment should be given as soon as possible after a person is exposed or diagnosed.
Burton said the count y had decided to leave its COVID shelters for the homeless open at this time since the health care system is so stressed.
Fire paramedics are being used to help ambulance paramedics make transports. They are all working on overtime and are all stressed, he said.
“This is a significant issue and we have limited options. It is real,” he said.
Commissioners wanted to know if they could get updates on COVID the same as they get on red tide. Burton said they could. He also said he would schedule update at all meetings in the future.
Long asked what the threshold was, suggesting 50%.
“To take what action,” Burton replied.
“Something. Something to protect our citizens,” Long said.
Commission Chair Dave Eggers said he was sure that everyone was frustrated about the situation. He thinks the most effective thing to do would be to encourage activity that would suppress transmission. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the transmission rate in the state and Pinellas County is high.
Eggers said businesses could encourage wearing masks. He said he thought more people were wearing them now and likely would continue to do so or not, regardless of any mandate.
“People are making their choices to be safe,” he said, adding that the commission had a lack of choices in what they could do that wouldn’t “fly in the face of state law.”
He advocated the vaccine, which he said was readily available.
“It is easy as possible to get the vaccine,” he said. “I hope the FDA approval will make a difference.”
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.