HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group met Thursday afternoon to discuss ways the county can help child care facilities operate in a safe manor, address testing and COVID-19 cases at long-term care facilities, and also talk about using geofencing data to help prevent a second surge of COVID-19 cases.
CHILD CARE FACILITIES
Child care has been an important part of helping essential workers serve the community.
There are 1,060 licensed child care programs in Hillsborough County.
Although child care is deemed essential, many facilities chose to close during the COVID-19 pandemic due to health and safety concerns, a lack of student enrollment, and new stringent operating procedures and sanitation guidelines put in place by the state.
Some of those restrictions include keeping groups of no more than 10 kids in classrooms, not allowing those groups to intermingle during the day and a strict sanitation process.
The county is working to help the facilities reopen and support the ones that already have.
However, they’re running into some problems.
Programs aren’t able to care for all their usual families because of limited capacity, not enough supplies and staff shortages. Additionally, the ability to care for school-age children will be limited due to the closure of public schools and the uncertainty of summer camps.
Several agencies have been supporting the child care community through the pandemic.
The Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County has received federal funding from the CARES Act to initiate programs to help provide child care for families of health care workers and first responders.
The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County has been offering some financial assistance to families of child care providers enrolled in the Quality Early Education System.
Hillsborough County Child Care Licensing is asking the board of county commissioners to waive the renewal licensing fees for child care providers for May and June.
Dr. Peter Chang with Tampa General Hospital and Dr. Matthew Mullarkey with USF presented a geofenced contagion tracking system to the EPG, to show them what movement among residents within the county looks like.
The geofencing program essentially tracks the location of cellphone users, in order to help county leaders better understand how movement impacts the spread of the virus.
Dr. Matt Mullarkey, director of the DBA program at USF presented heat maps to county leaders during the EPG meeting to show the data they have seen so far.
This map shows the movement of citizens and the risk of spreading COVID-19 before the safer at home order was put in place, when more people were moving around:
This map shows the risk of spread just days after the safer at home order was implemented:
The lighter the color, the lower the risk of transmission.
County leaders say using this data is not so much about pinpointing individual cellphone users, but more about getting an overview of where people within the county are traveling.
“It is about, do we tighten up the order. Clearly no one wants to do that without a good reason, or before it’s necessary, and that’s the power of this tool because it’s our data, the county’s data,” said Mike Merrill, Hillsborough County Administrator.
Dr. Mullarkey says this data will help track:
- How far individual devices are traveling
- Number of unique locations visited
- Number of dense locations visited
Dr. Mullarkey assures citizens that the geofencing program follows all federal privacy guidelines and does not have access to any personal or HIPAA information on a persons device.
County leaders say they will use this data to help them pinpoint areas that need additional testing.
LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES
Dr. Douglas Holt, Director of the Hillsborough County Health Department said there are currently 15 long-term care facilities that the health department is working with that have known cases of COVID-19 among either their residents or staff members.
Holt also said there are two days during the week when long-term care facilities have opportunities to get testing.
The health department is currently working with the USF College of Nursing to provide nursing teams at long-term care facilities that need them.
According to Holt, the county has requested antibody tests, and staff of long-term care facilities will likely have access to those tests at some point, but so far, the county has not actually received any.