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Pinellas County health officials prepare for growing numbers of Covid-19 cases

Margie Manning

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Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is not likely to peak in Florida for another month, according to Pinellas County’s top public health official.

A model used by the White House Task Force shows the estimated peak for Florida is about May 2, Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health, Pinellas County, told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners meeting Thursday.

“I’m hopeful however with some of the practice and policies we’ve put in place locally the peak won’t be as high and that it may be earlier to some degree —  or at least not peak as high,” Choe said.

As of Thursday morning, there were 239 confirmed coronavirus cases in Pinellas, according to the state health department.

The number of cases in Pinellas increased by 66 cases overnight, and six people have now died in Pinellas, Choe told commissioners.

There have been 56 hospitalizations in Pinellas, and Choe is working with hospitals in the county in anticipation of a surge in hospitalizations, and the hospital system becoming overwhelmed.

“We’re working with emergency management on looking at the data in terms of their supplies, in terms of their [ventilators], in terms of their [intensive care unit] beds, so we do have a system in place to monitor that,” Choe said. “We will continue to work with the hospitals in terms of surge capacities, and we’re starting discussions [about] if it were to get past 100 percent or 150 percent of their capacities, what other alternatives do we have in terms of care sites and other surge activities that could take place.”

About 3,700 people have been tested for coronavirus in Pinellas County, and the county is in the top seven in Florida in terms of testing.

The only intervention available is social distancing, Choe said.

His message to the public?

“Do your part, practice social distancing, stay at home when you can,” Choe said. “I’m optimistic that social distancing policies and education we put out there does eventually bend the curve.”

The county has contracted with a hotel to house homeless people who have coronavirus, Barry Burton, county administrator, told commissioners. “We’ll ramp that up as needed,” he said.

Commissioners voted Thursday to extend the county’s emergency orders, including the Safer at Home order that was issued last week, after presentations by Burton and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Gualtieri said most businesses are complying with the Pinellas County orders, but a Stay at Home order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will supersede the county order and require additional businesses to close.

Commissioners also voted to allow Burton to order any retail business not included in the governor’s list of essential businesses to close, to order any essential business to adhere to social distancing and other CDC guidelines, and to close any businesses not in compliance with CDC guidelines.

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