'Significant' outbreak of COVID-19 reported at Pinellas County jail

Right now, the Pinellas County sheriff says his agency is working to contain a “significant” outbreak of COVID-19 at the county jail.

As the county reports a spike in cases, law enforcement agencies are being asked to only send the worst of accused offenders to jail.

“It’s there and it’s a significant issue,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

In the last 48 hours, Gualtieri says there have been close to 20 positive cases between inmates and staff, with more test results still pending.

“I really feel like we are just chasing a ball that’s zig-zagging down the pathway at about 100 miles per hour,” he said.

The sheriff says he has been working with health experts to come up with a game plan on how to contain the virus. He says they have a respiratory containment area and right now they do not need to send any inmates to the hospital.

In the meantime, he asked city police chiefs to only send the worst offenders to the county jail.

“I don’t want to put people in that situation where we have to book them into jail. I think we are going to have to come up with alternatives, probably stop that, unless we have to book them in,” said Gualtieri.

During Thursday’s meeting, Pinellas County commissioners addressed the county-wide spike in cases; positive cases usually average around 2% of those tested, but in the past seven days, the average has jumped to 4%.

Five percent is the recommended threshold set by the state for reopening, but as County Administrator Barry Burton put it, “clearly the trend is not good.”

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know

AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com

Map of known COVID-19 cases:

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