CLEARWATER — Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins provided several highlights from the county’s recently-released 90-page COVID-19 after-action report during an April 7 work session.
“Over the past two years, we faced an unprecedented event that pushed us to be resilient, creative and persistent,” Perkins said. “What often seemed like a race stretched into a marathon that required a community wide response.”
Perkins thanked everyone in the “community that stepped up to help.”
From the start of the pandemic in December 2020, the county and its partners fulfilled more than 5,500 requests for resources, Perkins said, including nearly 13 million personal protective items. In addition, the county provided more than 250,000 COVID-19 vaccines and 308,000 tests.
She went over lessons learned, noting that staff had responded to a number of items beyond the county’s control. She pointed out that the April 7 meeting marked the two-year anniversary of the first virtual county commission meeting.
The after-action report included policies and protective measure enacted, as well as activities at the emergency operations center. It covered issues related to health and medical needs, public information, community response and economic relief.
Among the more important lessons learned was how invaluable partnerships can be, especially when creative solutions are needed. More than 80 faith- and community-based organizations provided assistance. Another lesson centered on the need for flexibility as staff worked to find new ways to do things.
Public information was key throughout the response, Perkins said, adding that staff had to deal with a lot of misinformation and conflicting information. She also talked about having to deal with the governor’s orders that often arrived late on Friday evenings. She said it was a challenge to try to get through the information quickly and then try to communicate it with the public as fast as possible.
Commission Chair Charlie Justice wanted the public record to show that the governor’s Stay at Home orders had determined essential activities. He said the commission never voted on what was considered essential, despite what claims by the public that the county had shut down their businesses.
Justice also wanted more information about what was being done to make sure long term care facilities would be better prepared in the future should anything like COVID-19 happen. More of the county’s deaths occurred in those facilities, especially those without adequate training and access to personal protective equipment.
Perkins said work was ongoing to make sure long-term care facilities and the county as a whole was better prepared to respond to future disasters.
Good leadership and partnerships made all the difference when it came to responding to COVID-19, Perkins said. She said the pandemic was the greatest challenge the county had faced in a long time and hoped it would be the last.
“We’re already talking about how to improve our response if needed in the future for a large-scale disaster,” she said.
To request a copy of the COVID-19 after action report, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We don’t just prepare for hurricanes, we prepare for all disasters,” Perkins said. “The best practices and partnerships we’ve developed during our response to the pandemic will make our response in the future disasters of any kind stronger.”
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.