TAMPA, Fla. -- The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group met Thursday to discuss the county’s continued response amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the meeting, county leaders extended the local state of emergency for another week.
Here is the list of key takeaways from Thursday afternoon’s meeting:
LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES
Hillsborough County officials identified one zip code in Tampa that is popping up as a hotspot for COVID-19 cases.
According to numbers form the Florida Department of Health, the 33612 zip code is the area with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the entire county.
That zip code, according to the Florida Department of Health (DOH), is currently home to 167 COVID-19 cases.
County officials say the reason that area has such a high count of cases is because The Bristol at Tampa Rehabilitation and Nursing Center is in that zip code, and that facility has a high number of cases.
Officials with The Bristol at Tampa Rehabilitation and Nursing Center say, so far, EMS has transferred 95 of their residents to local hospitals, 83 of those residents have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Thursday, 17 of their residents have died.
They say 42 staff members have also tested positive so far.
They also say those numbers are total numbers, and many people have since recovered.
Still, those numbers are causing concern for Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, and State Representative Fentrice Driskell, who sent a letter to the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group, hoping to keep the zip code on their radar.
“I know that there are state agencies that are right now looking into the Bristol and what’s going on there, and we want to make sure that’s continued to be kept on the forefront, because the individuals that are in our nursing homes, many of them are senior citizens, some of them may be individuals with disabilities, and they are certainly entitled to respect and dignity,” said Viera.
In Plant City, the Community Care Center reports having 84 residents and 22 employees confirmed to have COVID-19.
In Thursday’s EPG meeting, a doctor with BayCare said they and other area hospitals are working with long-term care facilities, and transferring patients as a last resort.
They say they want to keep patients where they’re comfortable, but if facilities feel like they cannot take care of patients according to AHCA guidelines, local area hospitals have agreed to take them, even if they’re asymptomatic.
They also said that if patients don’t develop symptoms, or if they recover, the ideal place for them is back at their long-term care facility, and they’ll work to get them back there.
Many Hillsborough County tattoo parlors are frustrated with local leaders, who have yet to give them the green light to reopen.
Pinellas County leaders announced on Tuesday that tattoo shops could reopen, under a strict set of guidelines.
Many Hillsborough County tattoo parlors are hoping for similar permission, but county leaders say it’s not up to them to make the decision.
Hillsborough County Attorney Christine Beck said the county is following the Governor’s order. She said the clarity tattoo shops need would be from the Governor, and the county is happy to assist those shops in reaching out to the Governor’s Office.
Tattoo shop owners still hoped to get some clarification from local leaders.
“If you had the power to close us, why can’t you reopen us,” said Jeffrey Ziozios, owner of Bay City Tattoo in Ybor City.
ABC Action News reached out to the Governor’s Office for clarification, and we are awaiting a response.
Dr. Douglas Holt, the director of the Hillsborough County Department of Health addressed the county’s contact tracing efforts.
He said when the county identifies people within the county who test positive for the virus, contact tracers will work with them to identify the people they may have been around, in order to inform those people that they were in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
“When we speak with a person who is identified with COVID-19, it is purely voluntary for them to speak to us, they can decline to talk with us, and on occasions we are unable to reach them, but that’s been unusual.“ said Dr. Holt.
Dr. Holt said the county is not using any cell phone technology to do contact tracing.
He also said, when identifying the people who may have come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, they focus on the people that person recalls being in close contact with for at least 10 minutes, and they focus a lot around potential clusters and gatherings.
SCHOOL AND SUMMER CAMPS
Hillsborough County School Board Chair Melissa Snively called some of the CDC recommendations for reopening schools “challenging”.
“We’re going to do our best to hopefully get children back to school in the fall, as quickly as we can, and as safely as we possibly can as well,” said Snively.
She said, at this point, the county does not plan to open summer school programs, but that the county superintendent plans to make a decision by June 15th, regarding whether the county will be able to engage in summer programming for children.
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the EPG that yesterday he submitted the county’s plan to allow vacation rentals to begin renting to visitors again.
He expects to have a response from the Department of Business and Public Regulation soon.