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Pinellas County roundup: Covid vaccine update, resiliency grant, new electric buses

Jaymi Butler



The 8,000 vaccine appointment slots opened last weekend were snapped up within an hour.

After a shaky start, nearly 64,000 people in Pinellas County have been vaccinated against Covid-19. However, officials are still concerned that the supply at both the federal and state levels aren’t keeping pace with demand.

Speaking at a Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County Director Dr. Ulyee Choe said the 8,000 vaccine appointments that were opened Saturday were filled within 45 minutes. The registration was scheduled to go live at 10 a.m. but a vendor technology outage delayed the process until Saturday afternoon, prompting widespread frustration that was subsequently shared on social media. 

According to Choe, the state-run health department and Pinellas County are working with the vendor for the online appointment system and vaccine site coordination, CDR Maguire, to ensure the system functions more smoothly next time vaccines are available. He did not say when that will be. However, in the coming weeks, Choe said a large portion of the additional state supply will go to providing second doses, which are critical for the efficacy of the vaccine.

Four public vaccination sites supported by local fire paramedics that opened last week are delivering about 2,200 vaccines per day supplied by the state, which has also sent additional doses to hospitals, health care providers, pharmacies and long-term care facilities, Choe said.

While the percentage of positive cases has been trending downward and Pinellas County has the lowest two week rolling average of the state’s 10 most populated counties – 7.53 percent – county commissioners still voted to extend the state of local emergency for Covid through Feb. 5. Additionally, another 281 cases were reported in Pinellas County Wednesday plus six additional deaths, bringing the cumulative county total since March to 57,774 cases and 1,269 deaths. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 345 people hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19 in Pinellas County’s acute-care hospitals, with 22.1 percent of adult ICU beds available. Choe said the hospital and ICU capacity is currently stable. 

In other county news:

  • A new survey conducted by the All4HealthFL Collaborative, a four-county partnership of local health departments and not-for-profit hospital systems in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties, showed behavioral health remains one of the regions’ greatest health needs. The top five issues identified were mental health, access to health care, housing, hunger and food insecurity and substance abuse. The Collaborative is working to address behavioral health by expanding access to Mental Health First Aid training, a program which helps community members learn the skills needed to identify and respond to mental illness and substance abuse in others. The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay launched a Mental Health First Aid initiative in October 2020. Their goal is to train 5,000 people over the next three years. 
  • Pinellas County will receive $992,000 to fund the creation of a countywide flood mitigation action plan awarded by the state of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s Rebuild Florida General Planning Support Program. Officials plan to use the funding to cover costs of ongoing work to assess and reduce the county’s vulnerability to flooding. This work will use advanced data and tools to analyze potential exposure of community assets and create strategies for mitigation. It will also recommend actions for community planning and outreach.
  • On Monday (Feb. 1), PSTA will introduce four new electric buses to its fleet in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and protect the environment. This will bring PSTA’s total number of electric buses to six.
  • Commissioners approved a production agreement for a “Hallmark-style” film to be filmed in Pinellas County that includes a promotion fee of $500,000. The County’s advertising agency of record estimates the tourism advertising value at $2.1 million.
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    January 27, 2021at4:41 pm

    What a waste of time and completely frustrating on Saturday morning at 10am, waiting to be among the first 8000 who called or went online for an appointment time. For those of us who do not get their up to date news on social media, it was extremely frustrating to try for an hour to get through at 10am and to be completely unaware that it had been opened up again in the afternoon.
    I was able to get my first vaccine today by going outside of Pinellas county. Manattee county has a lottery system and when your number comes up, they call you! Drive through – extremely efficient and NO stress. Perhaps Pinellas county should look to our south for a method that seems to work?

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    January 27, 2021at5:04 pm

    I don’t know why the health department couldn’t allow people to register and then have a wait list that the county could call when vaccines are available. This would eliminate the ridiculously long wait on the phone line , Not to mention crashing websites.

  3. Avatar

    julia damico

    January 27, 2021at5:54 pm

    How many people in pinellas County are over 65….8,000 vaccines are a drop in the bucket..what is the problem here…oh l know….let’s ask the governor..😂😂

  4. Avatar


    January 28, 2021at7:57 am

    Every county using different systems. People crisscrossing the state for vaccine. No coherent information available. A design for chaos.

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    Carolyn Raab

    January 28, 2021at9:42 am

    I too found Pinellas County’s attempt lacking. After getting on the phone at 10:01 AM, I was told (by recorded message) high call volume, call again, then getting hung up on and disconnected several times. I decided to just skip the whole health department route. Publix or Walgreens will get the vaccine soon enough. I have been housebound since March 13th what’s a few more months. At 77 I’d rather be safe than sorry.

  6. Avatar

    Panee Tantranond M.D.

    January 29, 2021at10:25 pm

    Being a retired physician and unfortunately living in Pinellas County I am very frustrated after three attempts to obtain the appointments on three occasions but could not even get to the tried to make phone calls but was repeatedly disconnected.What should an eighty year old lady do at this point when the system of this Pinellas county is so inefficient.Why don’t you preregister and call them on the basis of first come first serve rather than having 8000-10000 people compete to get in 20-30 minutes.It is hard to believe that the appointments of 10,000 doses were full in 30 minutes and I could not get in since 3 pm and by 3:40 pm was told the appointments were full.Why can’t we get the vaccines at Publix or Walgreens or at Walmart like other states ?
    I am sure this present Governor will not get my vote next time due to poor management.

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