Pinellas County residents need to keep abiding by the state and county orders to remain at home, County Administrator Barry Burton said Tuesday morning.
Abiding by the state Stay at Home order and the county Safer at Home order are the only way the county will be able to contain the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, Burton told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners during their first virtual meeting since the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic began.
“We are coming on this critical time where it’s projected it will peak in the next two weeks. We address that by not spreading it, not going out to large public places. Limit your movement and limit your activity to where we can contain it,” Burton said in a public appeal during the meeting.
He said the county is trying to prevent the situation that is happening in New York, where the hospital system is overwhelmed.
“We only have limited PPE, personal protective equipment, respirators and things like that. We’re trying to make sure we are prepared for the peak and we can properly respond to the pandemic,” he said.
A newly revised model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine shows the peak resource use for Covid-19 patients in Florida is two weeks from today, on April 21. According to that model, which has been cited by the White House but is only one of several models projecting peak resource usage, Florida will need 2,464 intensive care unit beds on April 21, but only 1,695 ICU beds will be available. Florida will need 13,168 hospital beds and have 20,184 beds available. The model projects 242 deaths in Florida from coronavirus on April 21.
The county has gotten calls from about 300 businesses considered non-essential and ordered to shut down as a result of the statewide order. Those businesses are making the case they are essential and asking to stay open. Burton said the county is making decisions on those businesses on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s unfortunate because if you recall a little over a week ago, before the governor’s order, we were saying for all those non-essential businesses, if they can implement social distancing practices, you can stay open. The governor’s order was very clear. If you are not essential, you must close and you as an individual can only leave your house if you are going to a job that provides essential services or you are going to have services or products that are essential,” Burton said. “I get this is a tough period. It is very hard to write an order that covers every situation, so we’re trying to be as consistent as possible. We are putting out additional guidelines and responding to the concerns that have been raised, in many cases talking to them directly.”
Pinellas County issued updated guidance on essential and non-essential businesses late Tuesday. Click here for that guidance.
The county also is asking Gov. Ron DeSantis for further clarification on his order, Burton said.
At least a couple of county commissioners have begun talking about life after the pandemic eases.
“I think it would be worth beginning to have a conversation about what it looks like to come out on the other side of this. What methodology or strategies we could begin to put in place to start to bring our economy alive again,” Commissioner Janet Long said. “More and more and more, that seems to be the thing that our folks are really worried and frightened about. The things they talk about in the media are not helpful. If they could be assured that somewhere, way in the background, there is a group working on this issue, it would be helpful to tamp down some of the fear.”
“I’m sure we have a group that will be looking at how we come out of this,” said Commission Vice Chair Dave Eggers. “That whole conversation has to be taking place, even as it relates to opening access to the waterfront so people can walk on the beach. I’m not saying right now but at some point that will make more sense, maybe next week or two weeks or three weeks.”
Additionally, Commissioner Kathleen Peters asked county officials to do more to emphasize access to mental health resources. Burton said a county workgroup is addressing that topic.
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