The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video.
On this episode, Dr. Ulyee Choe , Director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst.
Dr. Choe has dealt with outbreaks before. As he remembers Zika, Hepatitis A and even Measles, he says epidemiology is part of the job. COVID-19 has presented unique challenges including access to testing, the severity of outcomes for at risk populations and a potential to overwhelm the hospital system.
As usual, Steinocher first takes listeners through the Florida Chamber Scorecard for Pinellas County.
Choe joins the show a little earlier than the normal format to observe and grade Steinocher’s performance. He gives Steinocher a passing grade and shares the four statistics he watches closely: Case count, percent of positive cases, COVID-like illness and hospital bed availability. When asked about trigger numbers for opening or closing the community, he said there isn’t an exact number while adding that hospital usage is the key driver, as the purpose of flattening the curve is to avoid overwhelm of the system. Looking forward, Choe warns that many models show a second wave, which would make sense for any respiratory virus. That this virus mimics the flu poses additional risk for a possible fall spike, as many may mistakenly believe they have the flu.
When asked about the mental health aspects of the pandemic, Choe answered that quarantine or anything that “has a profound impact on the community, a profound impact on jobs, does have a correlation with mental health.” Even before COVID, he said, “the number one health issue in Pinellas was behavioral health, including mental health and substance abuse issues.”
Steinocher noted that the current heightened stress around equity layers over these existing stresses.
Moving into mitigating COVID, Choe shared that “contact tracing is a key part of containment, and something health officials have used for decades.” A specialized unit of investigators, normally with a staff of six, has been augmented to 22 in addition to another 18 people focused contact monitoring. The state has also added resources, and is exploring contact tracing phone applications. Choe reinforced the importance of following safety measures, including masks and social distancing. He reminded business owners that the CDC has generated guidance for business owners, schools and many organization and recommends those for best practices.
On balancing the myriad factors that influence policy, Choe said “One of the biggest determinants of health is economics. It’s about finding the balance between all the factors – and from local, state and national level officials are trying to find the right balance.”