St. Pete and Hillsborough officials caution about opening too quickly

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On Wednesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his plan to begin reopening the state. He’s calling it the “SAFE. SMART. STEP-BY-STEP. Plan to Re-Open Florida.”

Beginning Monday May 4 the entire state, excluding three heavy-hit southeast Florida counties, will begin what he calls “slow and methodical” steps to re-open, partnering with local communities.

DeSantis says there was needless hysteria because the coronavirus didn’t hit Florida as hard as the worst predictions.

Local government officials are paying attention to DeSantis’ announcement.

Before the governor’s announcement, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman said testing needs to increase before we know how many people have actually contracted COVID-19.

“Clearly based on Monday’s report from Dr. Lockwood at USF Health as well as Dr. Holt from our Florida Department of Health, he actually is our state health department. Both indicated that we need to ramp up testing per day. Right now we’re looking at 500 to 600 tests a day. At a minimum we need to do 2,250 a day. Having the supplies to do that, however, is a little challenging.

“And so we are ramping up getting as many supplies as possible and ramping up opening up additional sites. Three additional sites we opened up last week. Advent opened their own site up near Busch Gardens to be able to help with increasing that number of testing.

“So we currently have the capacity to do about 4,000 a day. But we need people to actually get tested. So and when they need free testing going through the county really makes it easy, especially with our mobile for those who don’t have cars.

“We’re going to get there but we’re not there yet. Because 1% results or testing is not reflective of the 1.4 million people here. And if that were true, if we could say well we’ve tested 1% and we’ve only 6% actually show up positive, if we extrapolate that across the population here, that means 86,000 are actually ill. And we don’t have any way of verifying that. So testing becomes really important.”

Kim Overman runs for Hillsborough County Commission in 2018 election

Kim Overman. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (20 July 2018).

Overman serves on the county’s Emergency Policy Group, which has set county-wide guidelines during the coronavirus emergency. They meet again Thursday.

“More than likely we’ll follow the Governor’s lead. Our executive orders are pretty much in sync with what the Governor has put into place after we put ours into place, as far as our safe at home ordinance. We had to make a few minor modifications to adjust to the governor’s order. But they are, and I think I have heard, that the Governor is sensitive to local needs.

“That’s why I was really pleased to see him come to Tampa the day before yesterday, to come and get a feel for how large our county is and the fact that we’re number four in the state when it comes to exposure and cases positive. He wanted to find out how ready we are for any of the decisions he makes going forward.”

St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon says one committee that includes the entire city council will meet Thursday to talk about coronavirus re-openings.

“We have a council meeting tomorrow and it’s Committee of the Whole meeting. We’re going to specifically be discussing reopening strategies. I do not know. It’s going to be the will of the body. It’s eight members. But I’m advocating for a guideline and actual concrete guidelines that would fall into place with metrics, of course, for reopening.

“I just think that a holding pattern is kind of passing the buck from one legislative body to the other waiting for somebody else to make the decision because nobody wants to get the heat. But people want to know where our heads are at and if we’re going to lead with science and metrics as opposed to just playing a waiting game and guessing.”

St. Petersburg election candidates

Robert Blackmon and John Hornbeck. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News.

Blackmon says not enough testing has happened to reopen quickly. Neither has there been enough tracing of individuals who have come in contact with people who tested positive for coronavirus.

“Contact tracing has been very seldom used, which is disconcerting to me. But as far as testing, I’ve said from day one we’ve had a real problem with PPE, we’ve had a real problem with testing. Only in the last week or so we really got the availability of tests and now people are moving toward having everybody tested. Because as we learn more about the virus we learn people could have been previously infected. We’re still now lagging because we don’t have antibody testing widely available.

“I think that it’s been a real problem and it’s part of the reason why we’re at a complete standstill and we’ve been playing a guessing game. Because we don’t know who’s been infected, how they’ve been spreading it and it’s where we really, really have our biggest weakness and need to improve the most.”

According to the AP, “President Donald Trump says the federal government will not extend its social distancing guidelines when they expire tomorrow. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the coronavirus guidelines will be “fading out” because of work that governors are doing in their states. Vice President Mike Pence said the guidelines issued 45 days ago have been incorporated into guidance provided to the states on how they can begin the process of gradually reopening their economies.”

Florida has more than 33,000 positive cases of coronavirus and more than 1,200 deaths, though there are likely more since the state made medical examiners stop releasing coronavirus death data.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Mayor Jane Castor says parks and beaches in Tampa will stay closed for now.

Watch the interview with Robert Blackmon:

 

Below is information from the City of St. Petersburg about coronavirus testing:

DOH-Pinellas is partnering with the community to offer no-cost COVID-19 testing in
Bartlett Park.

Testing is by appointment only. To make an appointment, call 727-568-8028.

Consider testing if you have these symptoms:
• Fever
• Cough
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

The following high-risk individuals may experience severe illness:
• Adults 65 and older
• Immunocompromised or have underlying medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease

Testing Site Information

Barlett Park
Saturday, May 2
8 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Frank Pierce Recreation Center
2000 7th St. S.

 

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