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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Pinellas Adds Testing Site As ICU Occupancy Reaches New High

Cars lined up for coronavirus testing at Tropicana Field
Cars line up for coronavirus drive-through testing at Tropicana Field.

Pinellas County will open a new drive-through COVID-19 testing site Wednesday at the Duke Energy for the Arts Mahaffey Theater in St Petersburg.

People do not need to have symptoms to get tested.

"That will give us much more increased capacity - where people can get a test in a timely manner,” said Administrator Barry Burton.

The site opens after high demand for drive-through testing at Tropicana Field.

Burton said the recent county rate of around 13 percent positive tests indicates Pinellas needs to do more to prevent becoming like other hard-hit Florida counties.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said the current rate of 13% positive coronavirus tests is better than the 20% in Miami Dade County, but it needs to be lower.

"We're also seeing that our positivity rate, compared (to) Miami-Dade county is far lower. They're at 20 percent plus,” he said. “Although 13 percent isn't good. We would certainly want it to be lower."

The new site is a response to the surging number of coronavirus cases.

Tuesday, state health officials reported 9,032 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in Pinellas County since the beginning of the pandemic, and 206 people in the county have died from complications due to the coronavirus.

Pinellas Health Director Dr. Ulyee Choe said the county health care system is already strained.

“As of this morning, the ICUs reported there are 111 COVID patients in ICU beds,” Choe told commission members at a Zoom meeting Tuesday. “The most we’ve had to date.”

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

Commissioners also voted to extend the local state of emergency through July 17. It was set to expire Friday. The extension allows the county to access federal funds to help with the coronavirus pandemic.

The commission members also voted to expand the Pinellas CARES program to help people and businesses pay rent, mortgage, and utility bills. People who’ve lost a job or significant income due to COVID-19 can apply for a maximum of $5,000 in aid.

Applicants now only need to sign a form saying their loss of income was directly related to COVID-19 and provide documentation of their residency in the county. People who either did not qualify before or who need further assistance can also reapply.

The expansion is funded by $170 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It will also help pay for more supplies, equipment and community testing.  

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