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As COVID-19 hotspots grow in St. Pete, leaders zero in on prevention

A cluster of three zip codes in south St. Pete has more than 1,200 cases of COVID-19.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, another zip code hotspot with more than 300 cases has emerged in south St. Petersburg, next to two others with more than 900 cases.

"We're concerned. That's why our message has been definitely prevention. We want people to understand the importance of washing hands, of staying home with their sick...and definitely wear face masks,” said Thomas Lovino of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

RELATED: COVID-19 cases spiking disproportionately among Pinellas County's Black population

Thursday, zip code 33711 showed on the Pinellas County COVID-19 dashboard as a newly-identified hotspot with 306 cases. The zip code follows the trend of 33712 with 429 cases and 33705 with 483 cases. Together, all three adjacent zip codes in the predominately African American area have more than 1,200 cases.

RELATED: A look inside the two zip codes with the highest COVID-19 numbers in Pinellas County

"When we look at the number of cases, African Americans do not have the largest number. However, we are suffering the greatest health disparities, because of the conditions of our neighborhoods,” said council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders, who organized a mask giveaway at Lake Vista Park on Thursday.

“I could not sit back as a council member, and I could not sit back as a resident of the city of St Petersburg with resources and…watch our numbers grow,” she said.

Five-thousand masks were distributed to community members who remained in their cars as masks were distributed in a drive-through setup.

"When I pulled up at five [o’clock], the line was from here all the way around waiting,” Figgs-Sanders said.

The mask giveaway will hopefully stop people from catching and transmitting the virus, but for people already feeling sick, health leaders say they're working on expanding testing throughout the city.

"Right now we don't have all the details worked out but that's the plan to begin testing at the Mahaffey Theater,” said Lovino.

That's on top of increased testing already taking place in St. Pete, where the virus is quickly spreading.

"I really wanted to do this before July 4, because it's not the open air events, it's those that are going to want to remain out of this heat in the air conditioning--10, 15, 20 people, you know, congregating together,” said Figgs-Sanders.

The health department says it also relies on contact tracing to help slow the spread of the virus. Right now, Pinellas has about 50 contact tracers working to control outbreaks.

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