TAMPA — Concerned about a jump in coronavirus cases in Hillsborough County’s long-term care facilities, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor called for increased testing of staff there.
“We went from none and now we have several,” Castor said at the county’s Emergency Policy Group meeting Thursday after a briefing from the county’s public health director, Dr. Douglas Holt.
The county has provided more swabs and paramedics to help speed testing efforts among long-term care workers in possible hot spots in nursing homes, said County Administrator Mike Merrill in a post-meeting media call.
Earlier, Holt told the group that the number of hospitalizations in the county had increased from 48 to 133 in the past week. Most of those hospitalizations are from long-term care patients. Most are being transferred from those facilities to hospitals to make sure they get the best care.
Holt said there has been no change in the number of people on ventilators or in intensive care units since last week.
Two outbreaks in facilities in Tampa and Plant City have accounted for at least 141 cases in recent days.
Across the county, testing has ramped up by the thousands over the last two weeks, Holt said. The county has now tested about 1.9 percent of its population.
Emergency Management director Timothy Dudley reported the county is expected to test more than 4,000 individuals this week. That’s a huge jump from a week earlier when the county tested 2,257 people at its four sites and mobile collections. Dudley said the county has 1,417 appointments scheduled for next week. The turnout through Wednesday pushed the county test total to 10,105 since the effort began March 25 at Raymond James Stadium.
Nurse Kimberly Pullen urged the Emergency Policy Group to recommend businesses require mandatory facial coverings for both employees and customers.
"My greatest fear is the health care system could potentially be overwhelmed in the future weeks,'' she said.
Project Aspect, a geofencing study from the county, Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida, compiled data from 51 hospitals in 13 counties. Through Wednesday, it reported 392 hospitalized patients with 96 in the intensive care units and 33 on ventilators due to COVID-19.
Over the past four weeks, both the acute care facilities and ICUs have been running at about 50 to 55 percent capacity and the region is using just 15 to 18 percent of its ventilators.
The data, which includes projections of probable hot spots of activity based on cell phone use, is intended to answer one question.
“Are we going to run out of bed capacity as we open and phase in our opening?’’ said Matt Mullarkey, director of information systems and decision sciences at USF.
If projections do indicate a surge, the information would help the policy group intervene to encourage appropriate behavior to help the public not spread the virus, Mullarkey said.
Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross said he was uncomfortable with using granular cell phone data, which he said would potentially violate residents’ privacy rights.
“I find it a little disturbing, a little scary,” Ross said. “It just sounds a little Big Brotherish to me.”
Mullarkey said researchers aren’t using individual data, only aggregate data. He said privacy rights would be respected.
The policy group also discussed a possible childcare crunch as residents return to work.
County Commissioner Kimberly Overman had asked county officials to research the possible challenges facing residents as businesses reopen. She has voiced concern that childcare may not be sufficient to meet demand.
Since the coronavirus outbreak began in March, childcare facilities have struggled to meet requirements of sanitization and social distancing. Currently, 372, or 35 percent, of the county’s licensed providers remain closed, according to a summary presented by Angela Chowning, the county’s child care licensing manager.
The summary noted areas of concern including lack of capacity, supplies and childcare workers. Those potential trouble spots might be worsened by closure of public schools and lack of certainty about summer camps bringing more older children into the system than it may be able to handle.
“I think child care services are integral to reopening our community,” said Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HAVE YOU LOST SOMEONE YOU LOVE TO COVID-19?: Help us remember them
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
CONTRIBUTE TO THE SCRAPBOOK: Help us tell the story of life under coronavirus
BRIGHT SPOTS IN DARK TIMES: The world is hard right now, but there’s still good news out there
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information, six days a week
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.