During a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting, I was struck by a particular comment from our Emergency Medical Services Medical Director. Dr. Angus Jameson provides clinical oversight and leadership to our EMS system and service providers. He also practices emergency medicine, so he is on the front lines in battling this virus. The expertise and that he and other health care leaders regularly share at our meetings help us make our COVID-19 related decisions.

Dr. Jameson was speaking in support of our ordinance requiring face coverings in public places when he referenced the importance of selflessness and personal responsibility. “I think we have actually started to see folks self-regulate their behavior, whether that’s redoubling their efforts at distancing or choosing to do different activities,” he said. “I think it should be reassuring to us that we, as a community, do have some ability to mitigate this virus. But it does take the community taking those actions on a broad scale with individual personal decisions.”

That last part resonated with me because it was a reminder that whenever we have come together as a country, state or community, we have met our challenges. Think about how we’ve pulled together after hurricanes and other natural disasters, and during wartimes. During the Great Depression, supporting each other was a matter of survival. We haven’t always exhibited that spirit during this pandemic. Political differences and social media rancor have divided us. Misinformation has drowned out good science at times. But Dr. Jameson’s observation suggests there’s hope we’re starting to fight back with our collective will.

We all want to get back to our normal lives. We want to be able to go to ball games and community events and movies and concerts. We want to visit our elderly or our grandchildren, hug a friend we haven’t seen in ages, attend weddings and funerals, celebrate birthdays. As a legislator, I want to return to safely holding our Board meetings in person. But most importantly, we want to stay healthy. Our medical professionals tell us the best way we can protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our most vulnerable citizens is by wearing masks in public places, washing our hands often, and social distancing. The Department of Health reminds us to avoid the “3 Cs”: closed spaces, crowded spaces and close-contact settings. Some people can’t wear masks, and some won’t go along with any of the guidance, but if most of us do, we’ll slow this down and save lives.

Your Pinellas County leadership understands we’re in this together, and we’re doing our part. In early July, we approved a range of new programs funded by the federal CARES Act that will help those hardest hit by COVID-19. An expanded financial assistance program broadened eligibility for individuals and families who need help with overdue housing and utility payments. Other programs will soon offer grants to a wider range of small businesses and support to nonprofits that have seen a spike in service needs. We’ve also partnered with the state and City of St. Petersburg to support a drive-thru testing site at the Mahaffey Theater where anyone can go regardless of symptoms. And we’ve distributed more than 150,000 face masks while continuing to replenish supplies as needed.

We’re still learning about COVID-19, and the lack of certainty has created some well-intentioned disagreements about these important matters. Often, there is no perfect answer. We on the Board of County Commissioners have taken a measured and thoughtful approach whenever we have had to make a decision. We have listened to you – and we have read your thousands of emails – and we have listened to the experts. Only when convinced they were absolutely necessary have we imposed restrictive measures.

COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere soon. But eventually, there will be a vaccine and/or better treatments. Let’s look out for each other in the meantime. As always, if you have questions or comments, you can reach me at (727) 464-3363 or cjustice@pinellascounty.org.