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Pinellas state of emergency will limit visitors for the 13,500 people in long-term facilities

To enforce the measure, Pinellas County deputies will deliver notices to each center once letters are finalized, County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners, who unanimously approved the emergency order.
 
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri talks to the County Commission before Hurricane Irma in 2017. The board was considering whether to extend the county's local state of emergency. [ JIM DAMASKE   l   Times]
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri talks to the County Commission before Hurricane Irma in 2017. The board was considering whether to extend the county's local state of emergency. [ JIM DAMASKE l Times]
Published March 13, 2020|Updated March 14, 2020

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CLEARWATER –– A local state of emergency declared Friday will limit the number of visitors for 13,500 residents in about 200 long-term care facilities to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

To enforce the measure, Pinellas County deputies will deliver notices to each center once letters are finalized, County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners, who unanimously approved the emergency order.

The purpose is to “limit visitations and to implement enhanced screening and protective measures,” according to the declaration.

Burton and Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, said the restrictions are needed to help slow the spread of the pandemic among vulnerable patients in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, adult family-care homes and adult group homes.

“This has been a very fluid situation,” Burton said. “Pinellas has a strong response team.”

The declaration allows Burton and Emergency Management director Cathie Perkins to waive procedures to do what is considered necessary to help slow the disease from spreading.

It also gives broad powers to administrative staff to maintain public health in the wake of residents being infected. The county now has the power to cancel mass gatherings. The state emergency declaration “defines loosely” mass events as those for about 1,000 people, Choe said.

On Thursday, the state announced two positive tests for coronavirus among men, ages 64 and 67, in Pinellas County.

Before commissioners voted, they urged residents to stop hoarding items from grocery stores.

“It’s as though we are in a hurricane,” Commissioner Janet Long said. “The shelves are totally empty.”

Added Commissioner Ken Welch: “They don’t need to run and grab all the toilet paper in K-Mart.”

Additionally, Burton said officials are working on plans that would allow some employees to work from home. Even with workers are home, Burton said the county is not shutting down operations.

The emergency declaration could last only seven days but could be extended in seven-day increments, according to county ordinances.

Pasco and Hillsborough commissioners declared states of emergency on Thursday.

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