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.