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Pinellas releases expansive Covid after-action report

Mark Parker



Pinellas County emergency management officials recently released a 90-page report detailing the county's response to the Covid pandemic. File image.

After enduring a global pandemic for over two years, the Pinellas County Department of Emergency Management recently released an after-action report detailing the response to an event unprecedented in modern times.

The sprawling 90-page report details the challenges and successes of the county’s response to Covid and highlights areas that need improvement. As Florida’s most densely populated county, with nearly a million people packed into a peninsula, Pinellas faced unique circumstances navigating the public health crisis. The report spans December 2019 through March 2022 but notes the Department of Health reported the first local Covid case was on March 13, 2020.

Despite housing 253 long-term care facilities and with a quarter of residents over the age of 65, Pinellas faired relatively well in the pandemic. While the report lists deaths at “over 3,000,” data from the New York Times shows 3,315 deaths and an average of 214,408 cases per one million residents. For comparison, the data shows Hillsborough County, albeit more populated, with 3,749 deaths and 254,717 cases per one million residents.

Cathie Perkins, emergency management director for Pinellas County, told the Catalyst the preponderance of long-term care facilities was a specific concern. However, she said the county was fortunate for the governor to select Pinellas as a pilot for vaccines.

“The governor selected both Pinellas and Broward County – I think because of the risk of our long-term care facilities,” she said. “And that was very helpful.

“I can’t speak to other counties’ responses – we were very neck-deep in our response.”

According to the report, Pinellas and its community partners fulfilled over 5,500 resource requests from local care facilities, hospitals and first responders, delivering nearly 13 million personal protective items. Perkins credited the state for pushing out protective equipment (PPE) and said the county set up an efficient staging area.

Over the course of the pandemic, the county and its partners delivered nearly 13 million personal protective items and provided over 250,000 Covid vaccines and 308,000 tests, according to the report. Screengrab.

Perkins added that county officials worked closely with the sheriff’s office to offer resources to those in need, and the report detailed how community partners and area businesses found creative ways to provide PPE through supply chain shortages. Just 10 days after the first reported Covid case in the county, the Business Working Group began collaborating with local businesses to determine if they could manufacture or donate critical supplies.

Dentist offices, hair salons and tattoo parlors were some of the many businesses supporting the effort.

“This was like a global competition to get PPE, so it was very difficult,” said Perkins. “We had local companies that changed their production and started making some PPE.”

The county also provided over 250,000 vaccines, according to the report. In December 2020, immediately following the Federal Drug Administration issuing Emergency Use Authorizations for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a resident, nurse and staff member at Carrington Place in St. Petersburg were among the first vaccinated. As part of the state’s pilot program for residents and staff of long-term care facilities in Pinellas, 68 sites received immunizations in the first five days.

Perkins found it extremely difficult to ascertain how many vaccines Pinellas would receive in advance. She said state officials would notify the county just days before expected deliveries, making planning for vaccination sites a critical challenge.

“I think we were very fortunate that our emergency medical services and fire department supported that tremendously,” she said. “They provided us with the manpower to actually provide the vaccines.”

Perkins called quickly launching testing and vaccine sites the greatest challenge of the pandemic. She said this was due to every community across the country trying to cope with Covid simultaneously. She explained that county officials could turn to other areas for resources and receive them quickly and easily during other disasters, a measure not possible during the pandemic.

Through the opening stages of the pandemic, Perkins said the county had a wealth of potential locations for testing and vaccination sites. However, a lack of personnel and the competition for resources drastically hindered those efforts.

“I think if we could go back and change something, I think we could have pre-planned or perhaps identified more local resources more quickly,” she said. “I think we did a phenomenal job, but that’s our job in emergency management – to always go back and look at what we could have done better.”

Perkins said the greatest success of the pandemic was the community’s support and response. She said county officials immediately realized Covid would have a significant county-wide impact and quickly set up working groups with local partners and area businesses.

Perkins called the number of people that stepped up to assist the county in a time of need “awe-inspiring.”

Experiencing the pandemic taught Pinellas officials several lessons and helped identify Achilles heels in its emergency responses, said Perkins. She believes the county is now more prepared for such a health crisis but noted that life often throws curveballs – as evidenced by the subsequent Delta and Omicron variants.

“I never want to assume that just because we’ve been through this, the next one will be exactly the same,” she said. “But I think it helps us put some tools in our toolkit that we can pull out if  we had to deal with this again.”

COVID-19 After Action Report March 2022


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    April 13, 2022at10:26 am

    I am so glad to live in a wise community.

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