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Pinellas County docs: Covid-19 crisis has not improved

Margie Manning



Pinellas County commissioners sat six feet apart and most wore masks except when speaking in the board's first in-person meeting in several months.

The Covid-19 crisis continues to stress hospitals in Pinellas County, physicians and executives from HCA Healthcare, BayCare Health System and Advent Health told the Board of County Commissioners.

The number of new cases reported daily and the percent of people who test positive has declined from previous weeks, according to the county’s top public health official. But the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners voted to extend the county’s local state of emergency to July 31, after hearing doctors describe a grim situation in some hospitals.

“Since we last spoke, while things have not gotten significantly worse, I would like to impress on you that they have gotten no better,” said Dr. Larry Feinman, chief medical officer, HCA Healthcare West Florida. “We have not made a huge dent in flattening the curve.”

HCA has four Pinellas County hospitals, and two of them were at 90 percent or higher capacity as of Monday, Feinman said. At one of the hospitals, 82 percent of the ventilator capacity in the intensive care unit is being used.

One HCA hospital in Pinellas provides extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, treatments, which Feinman described as a last-ditch effort to save a life. Previously, the hospital might have two or three patients on ECMO. Now, it has 10 Covid-19 positive patients getting the treatment.

“The oldest one is 59 and the youngest is 27 with an average age of 46,” Feinman said. “Make no mistake. Our young people are getting sick.”

Pinellas County is seeing a second peak of Covid-19 cases, said Dr. Nishant Anand, executive vice president and chief medical officer of BayCare.

“We’re not through the end of this by any means, and I think sometimes that gets lost because we see signs of hope and as much as we want to hope and believe that it’s gone, we’re still in the middle of this,” Anand said.

The biggest issue Advent Health North Pinellas faces is a staffing shortage, said Jason Dunkel, president and CEO of the Tarpon Springs hospital. More rapid testing would help with that.

“The quicker people get test results, the faster they can get back to work,” Dunkel said.

There have been improvements in both the number of new cases reported each day and the percent of people who test positive, said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health-Pinellas County. As of Tuesday, the seven-day average for new cases was 320 cases per day, and the percent of people who test positive over the past week has hovered around 8 percent to 9 percent.

“I think it’s a combination of increased testing and also some policy decisions, including the bar closures as well as the mask mandate,” Choe said.

The board met Tuesday at the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Center in Largo, for its first in-person meeting since early April. In addition to the local state of emergency and other county business, commissioners met late into Tuesday night considering a backlog of issues that required holding public hearings.

Given the information the board heard from the doctors, County Commissioner Janet Long said it was “bad optics” to meet in person, even though they wore masks and sat six feet apart.

Commissioners agreed to return to an online gathering for their next meeting on Thursday, July 30.

Here are the latest numbers for the Covid-19 outbreak in Pinellas County (as of Tuesday, July 21):

• Total cases to date: 13,925

• New cases reported July 21: 334

• Total deaths to date: 334

• New deaths reported July 21: 11

• Total hospitalizations to date: 1,160

• New hospitalizations reported July 21: 22

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