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Pinellas nursing homes ordered to screen visitors under emergency order

Margie Manning



Photo credit: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

UPDATE: Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday banned nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other facilities that cater to the elderly from allowing visitors for the next 30 days.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton is ordering every nursing home, assisted living facility and adult day care center in the county to screen visitors.

Barry Burton

Burton asked for and received that authority as the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners declared a local state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

The declaration also gives Burton authority to approve expenditures and issue other special orders as needed to ensure public safety during the response.

“Pinellas has a strong response team and I want you to know that everyone is dedicated to making sure we have safe procedures in place,” Burton said at the emergency meeting of Pinellas commissioners late Friday. “Our focus at this time though is on slowing down any potential onset of COVID-19 so it doesn’t overwhelm our health and our emergency response.”

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s office will hand-deliver a letter from Burton to facilities that cover 13,500 county residents — 71 nursing homes, 177  assisted living facilities and 14 adult day care centers. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order earlier this week preventing certain people, including those who may be sick or recently took a cruise, from visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida.

“The governor’s order was more general. This is very specific. We’re taking action to say you will limit interaction at our long-term care facilities and you are required to have preventative measures in place to screen those coming into the facility,” Burton said.

The action has the backing of Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, who told county commissioners that it’s important to focus on the most vulnerable populations, those who over 65, those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and cancers, and those on immunosuppressant therapy.

“Our primary focus is containment and mitigation strategies. I don’t know if you’ve seen that hashtag, #FlatteningTheCurve. That’s what we’re trying to do with those kinds of strategies. The goal is to delay the epidemic so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system, so it gives us time to get our resources in order to not overwhelm the ERs, the hospitals and the ICUs, to somewhat flatten and delay the epidemic,” Choe said.  “I think we need to continue to take those types of measures and work with community partners to flatten that curve. If the local state of emergency assists in those mitigation strategies, I support that from the department of health.”

Choe also said the county will continue to prioritize testing for high-risk individuals. The governor has ordered 2,500 more test kits, which can test up to 625,000 individuals, Choe said.

Commissioner Janet Long asked if there is an adequate supply of masks and personal protection equipment needed by first responders. The county’s community partners are coordinating on those logistics, Choe said.

“The concern here is this outbreak could last a number of months, so with that we have to take into account both resource issues and also human resource issues as well,” Choe said.

When Long asked about a run on hand sanitizer, Choe said it’s hard for the county health department to track shortages, but he reminded commissioners that “soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers.”

The Florida Department of Health remains the lead response agency in Florida and is working on containment and mitigation per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a news release from Pinellas County said.
Burton also said county officials have been holding regular coordination calls with an executive policy group, appointing authorities and municipal partners.

The County’s Emergency Operations Center and Citizen Information Center have been partially activated. Citizens with questions can call the CIC at (727) 464-4333 through 8 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Residents who are deaf or hard of hearing can contact the CIC via online chat at

Pinellas County has also established a dedicated COVID-19 webpage where citizens can find in-depth information on the virus, links to resources and regular updates.

The emergency declaration is effective for seven days and is renewable. Burton said he would stay in close contact with commissioners to talk about next steps, if needed.

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