Lower COVID-19 vaccination rates and high levels of transmission exacerbated by the highly contagious Delta variant is cause for concern in Pinellas.
Though Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended all local ordinances aimed to curb the spread of the virus, Gulfport officials urge anyone who has not been vaccinated do so and recommend everyone wear a mask, especially indoors.
According to the most recent data as of Tuesday, August 10, the New York Times COVID-19 tracker for Pinellas County shows an average of 731 cases per day, the highest of the pandemic so far. In the county, 51 percent of the population is fully vaccinated as of Thursday; 59 percent of those 18 and up are vaccinated and 78 percent of Pinellas seniors have gotten their shots.
Doing What They Can
“No county or municipality may renew or enact an emergency order or ordinance, using a local state of emergency … that imposes restrictions or mandates upon businesses or individuals due to the COVID-19 emergency,” read DeSantis’s executive order enacted on May 3.
While cities and counties across Florida no longer have any power when it comes to virus control measures, Gulfport officials are doing what they can for community safety. It isn’t much.
“Due to the impact of the governor’s executive order, the city is complying with the spirit of the order, but recommending that anyone entering city buildings be masked,” said Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “Unfortunately, I have to stress that all we can do is recommend at this time.”
The City of Gulfport, which recently permitted the Gecko Ball, an indoor celebration planned for August 28, announced on Monday, August 9 that the event will be postponed until October 23. A city-sponsored celebration of life for the families and friends of COVID-19 victims was already canceled before its Sunday, August 8 date due to .
Meanwhile, Gulfport’s cultural events specialist Justin Shea has been isolating at home since Monday, August 2.
Shea, who is vaccinated, said his 12-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID.
“If I hadn’t gotten the vaccine things could have been much worse for me,” Shea said. “I had fatigue and a fever but I was able to care for my daughter.”
In order to beat wait times and unnecessary traveling, the City of Gulfport partnered with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County (DOH-Pinellas) to create a pop-up vaccine site at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom on Saturday, August 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free vaccines are also widely available at many local pharmacies, without an appointment.
“What’s most important is to take advantage of the vaccine, and wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home if you feel sick,” Shea said. “I wear a mask to protect you – you need to wear a mask to protect me.”
City officials will discuss future events and the COVID-19 situation at the Thursday, August 17 council meeting at 6 p.m. at City Hall, Council Chambers, 2401 53rd St. S. The city recently re-instated virtual attendance for council meetings via Zoom.