Pinellas officials grapple with community spread, fear as pandemic hits vulnerable communities

Pinellas County seems to be getting a better handle on coronavirus, compared to others in the Bay Area, but health experts say the county is not in the green and this is no time to let up.

"We have seen an overall improvement in the last few weeks,” Pinellas County director of public health Dr. Ulyee Choe explained to the county commission Thursday. “As of this morning, we have 330 hospitalized COVID patients in Pinellas County; 68 in ICU and 37 on vents.”

The numbers are encouraging. The seven-day rolling average of test positivity is down to 6%. It was 7% this time last week. Anything below 5% is what the CDC recommends. 

Healthcare workers are still stressed, dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients. Nearly 70% of the county’s COVID-19 deaths are in people who lived in nursing homes.

The county has set up a separate nursing home to isolate COVID-19 patients who need long-term care. 

If you break down the numbers by ZIP code, South St. Pete is still feeling the heaviest impact.

Another problem health officials are trying to combat is fear. They say heart attacks, strokes, and other serious medical conditions are being put off or ignored until it is too late because the patient fears contracting COVID-19.

“Please don’t wait until things get worse,” urged Pinellas County EMS medical director Dr. Angus Jameson. “We are seeing more and more evidence of delayed diagnosis. Everything up to and including cancer.”

The recent dip in cases is being attributed to early mask mandates and closing of, but the public health director says don't get too comfortable.

“We do have a long way in battling this pandemic. If this were a football game, we are only in the second quarter,” Dr. Choe said.