This week marks the one year anniversary for the Covid-19 pandemic in Pinellas County.
The first Pinellas cases were reported on March 11, 2020, when two men in their 60s tested positive for coronavirus.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there was a cumulative total of 68,085 cases in Pinellas County, and 1,482 people in the county have died as a result of the virus, according to the Florida Department of Health.
“In terms of deaths, I know there have been people who have been fortunate to not be affected or not know people,” said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health-Pinellas County. His voice breaking, he added, “I know too many and have been to too many memorial services. It’s been a trying time for all of us and for those impacted by Covid.”
Hospital capacity remains stable and the seven-day positivity rate average is 4.5 percent, he said.
Choe addressed the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners before they voted Tuesday to extend the state of local emergency to March 19.
Much of the county’s focus has shifted to vaccinations, Choe said.
Initially, only people age 65 and older could get vaccinated, but on March 1, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order allowing sworn law enforcement officers, firefighters and K-12 school employees who are 50 and older to be vaccinated
As of March 9, 175,649 individuals, or about 17.7 percent of the total population in Pinellas County, have received at least one dose of vaccine. About 52 percent of the people 65 years old and older, or 132,149 individuals in Pinellas County, have been vaccinated, Choe said.
The totals don’t include about 10,000 veterans — about 88 percent of them 65 or older — who were vaccinated at the Bay Pines Veterans Administration Healthcare System, he said.
Pinellas County, with its partners, has developed a robust distribution system at its three community vaccination sites and has the capability to vaccinate more than 20,000 people a week, Choe said.
“However, we are seeing a softening of demand to some degree,” Choe said. “I think part of it is because we have other access points, pharmacies and medical clinics.”
Starting next week, anyone who is 60 and older will be eligible for the vaccine. There are close to 80,000 Pinellas County residents between 60 and 64 years old, “so I think our demand will go up again once that is in effect starting Monday,” Choe said.
Choe also said there have been 11 missions completed at churches and organizations in traditionally underserved communities to improve equity in vaccine distribution, with two more scheduled this week.
Residents 65 and older, as well as other groups recently made eligible, can book appointments at www.PatientPortalFL.com or by calling 844-770-8548.
During the board meeting, more than half a dozen members of the public asked the board to lift the county’s mask mandate, which has been in place since June 24.
“There’s real fatigue and frustration out there,” said Commissioner Kathleen Peters. She asked County Administrator Barry Burton to provide data at the board’s April 13 meeting for a discussion on the mask mandate.
Commissioner Janet Long said she’s happy to see the Covid case numbers going in the right direction.
“I do have a concern about the influx of spring breakers coming from other parts of the country, and I’m worried about any movement we might do today or until we get past spring break because I think that’s an accident waiting to happen. We all know younger folks think they are invincible and they are not as cautious as the rest of us,” Long said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends continuing to wearing masks and to practice social distancing, “especially in light of the fact that less than 20 percent of our population has been vaccinated here in Pinellas County,” Choe said.