Updated July 30, 2021

Hi wonderful SPFC volunteers! As many of you may be, the Free Clinic is following news of the resurgence of COVID, particularly so in Florida.

On July 1, there were 2,400 new cases statewide. Yesterday’s count of positive cases was 16,000. In Pinellas County, our case positivity rate is 14%, up from under 4% at the beginning of the summer. Our current positivity rate puts us level with where we were at the height of COVID’s third wave last winter. The increased rate of infection is due to the more contagious and more easily transmissible Delta variant of the COVID virus, which is most adversely impacting individuals who are unvaccinated.

Our COVID safety policies continue to align with CDC guidance for reducing the rate and incidence of the spread of the COVID virus among our volunteers, staff and those whom we serve.

The most recent update on COVID recommendations released by the CDC includes the addition of mask-wearing indoors even for fully vaccinated individuals.  At SPFC, we have retained our indoor mask policy, so this recommendation doesn’t change anything for us; but it does reinforce the increased risk we’re all currently facing.

We will continue to monitor CDC guidelines and make updates to our COVID policy accordingly.

The best way to mitigate risk of contracting, becoming seriously ill from the COVID virus, and/or transmitting the virus to someone else is to get vaccinated. SPFC strongly encourages everyone to get a COVID vaccine.

A reminder of the Free Clinic’s current mask policy:  While indoors on Free Clinic property, volunteers, employees, clients and visitors shall wear a mask. Masks should cover the nose and mouth at all times and fit snugly on the face. For our We Help drive-thru Pantry volunteers, please remember to put on your mask before entering the We Help building.

Thanks so much to all of you for you continued vigilance.  Your health and safety, and that of our clients and staff, is our top priority! 

###

The St. Pete Free Clinic’s executive leadership has updated our COVID Safety protocols as follows: effective Monday, June 21, wearing a mask outdoors at Free Clinic programs will be optional. This includes under the tent at the We Hep FRESH Pantry during food distribution, in loading dock areas that are outdoors and highly ventilated and when on our properties and outdoors (e.g., standing outside the Health Center).

These are the considerations weighed regarding this decision:

  • Vaccine rates have stabilized in Pinellas County with between 40-50% of the population being fully vaccinated. This number has not changed in two weeks, suggesting that the vaccine is widely accessible and those who would like to receive one have had the opportunity to do so (and continue to have that opportunity).
  • The percent positive rate of COVID cases in Pinellas County has been below 5% for over two weeks which is a WHO and CDC indicator that the spread of the virus is sufficiently low.
  • The CDC guidance for onsite food distribution in a food pantry setting clarifies that outdoor food distribution is still preferable and that masks should be worn. upon entering buildings. Visit the CDC website for more detailed information by CLICKING HERE.

Thus, the Free Clinic policy moving forward will be that masks are optional outdoors and on our ventilated loading docks. Our indoor mask policy will not change. In addition to masks being optional outdoors, we will also discontinue COVID screening of volunteers. Finally, we will discontinue temperature checks and sign-ins for volunteers for COVID tracing reasons. Sign-ins for other reasons (e.g. volunteer hours sign-ins) will remain in place.

Our heartfelt thanks to you, our treasured volunteers, who have been so generous with your time during this unprecedented health crisis. And thanks for your patience while we navigated the ever-evolving information and guidelines from state and federal agencies and health professionals. The Free Clinic has been and will continue to be committed to keeping our programs operating to meet the increasing needs of our neighbors. Along with that commitment, the safety of our volunteers, clients and staff will always remain a top priority.

###

May 2021

Where Are We Now? : A Message from the Free Clinic CEO on COVID Protocols

Dear Free Clinic Volunteers,

I’m so grateful to each and every one of you for your continued service to the Free Clinic and the communities we serve. Your tireless work makes what we do possible, and we’re thankful everyday for your willingness to keep showing up and rolling up your sleeves!

We know that many of you have been vaccinated against COVID. We’re incredibly relieved that your health is now better protected.

I want to update each of you on where we are as an organization with respect to our protocols given the current stage of COVID and status of vaccinations. I know many of you are eager to leave your masks behind, so I’ll jump right in and answer the million dollar question:  At this time, all volunteers, staff and visitors at the Free Clinic’s various locations are still required to wear masks, whether indoors or outdoors.

At a minimum, we follow CDC guidelines in the establishment and enforcement of our COVID policies and protocols. Some programs, where there is close or prolonged contact with others, may enforce stricter protocols that provide maximum protection for staff, volunteers and clients. The CDC has updated its guidance with a great deal of specificity for community-based organizations, and even food banks/food pantries in particular (latest update was done at the end of April 2021).

CDC guidelines state that staff and volunteers in these settings should still wear masks.

According to CDC, “We are still learning how well vaccines prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even if you do not have symptoms.”

That means that even if you are vaccinated, there’s a chance you could carry the virus and infect others. Because we can’t know the vaccination status of all of those with whom our volunteers come in contact, it’s safest for all of us to wear masks.

We, like you, look forward to the time (hopefully soon!) that we can all remove our masks and interact safely without them. We will continue to closely monitor CDC guidelines and will update our policies and protocols accordingly and swiftly, as things change.

We sincerely appreciate your continued willingness to serve and to follow our safety protocols, which, in addition to wearing masks, include:  

  • If you’re feeling sick, please stay home and recover before coming back to your shift
  • Sign in and check your temperature upon arrival for your shift
  • Sanitize your hands frequently, and wash them with soap and water for 20 seconds when possible
  • Observing location- and program-specific protocols (e.g., in the Health Center) that may take additional measures into account

If you have any questions, please feel free to connect with me directly, or as always, contact Jennifer Silva.

Thank you again for all you do for the Free Clinic and those whom we serve.

Sincerely,

Jenn

Jennifer Yeagley, MA 
Chief Executive Officer

###

COVID UPDATES AND FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What if someone at the Free Clinic tests positive? Will I be notified?
If a volunteer or employee tests positive, Free Clinic staff will carefully evaluate any potential exposure to other volunteers or staff.  You will be notified if you had close contact with a confirmed positive case. CDC defines close contact as being within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more. 

Do I still need to wear a mask after I get the vaccine?  While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic. This includes wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and frequent hand washing. St. Petersburg Free Clinic will continue to mandate mask-wearing for all volunteers and staff until further notice. 

Should I double-up on my masks for additional protection from the new more contagious strains of COVID-19?  The idea of doubling-up on face masks (or adding additional filtration) has been suggested by leaders in the public health community as a way for individuals to better protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus and the new, more contagious strains.  While the Free Clinic is not mandating that our volunteers double-up with masks, we encourage each of you to do as you are able. We have plenty of disposable masks on hand so you can wear one under your cloth mask or other mask. For more information on masks, visit the CDC website by CLICKING HERE. 

Do I still need to quarantine if I have a confirmed COVID-19 exposure and I have received the vaccine?  Yes. Those with known exposures should still quarantine even if vaccinated until the majority of those around them are vaccinated.  It is unclear if the person could still be a carrier and due to different body responses it could take weeks for a person to build their own immunity.  For more info on the COVID-19 vaccines, please visit the CDC’s FAQ page by clicking HERE.  

When can I return to volunteering after travelling?  Out of an abundance of caution, and following the recommendations of the CDC, our organization’s leadership asks that anyone who has traveled internationally quarantine upon return for 14 days before returning to work. We also request that you get tested 3-5 days after travel and are able to produce a negative test before volunteering in person.  For domestic travel, the CDC recommends reducing non-essential activities for a full 7 days after travel, and getting tested 3-5 days after your trip.  

Reminder:  How to wear a mask properly!
From the CDC Website

  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on your mask.
  • Put the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
  • Fit the mask snugly against the sides of your face, slipping the loops over your ears or tying the strings behind your head.
  • If you have to continually adjust your mask, it doesn’t fit properly, and you might need to find a different mask type or brand.
  • Make sure you can breathe easily.
  • DO NOT put the mask around your neck or up on your forehead.
  • DO NOT touch the mask, and, if you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

Note:  Plastic Face Shields alone are not sufficient.  When you volunteer, we ask that you wear a face mask (cloth or disposable) at all times.  If you do choose to wear a plastic face shield. We ask that you also wear a face mask.  

Mandatory Safety Protocols for We Help Volunteers 
(Food Bank and We Help locations)

The safety of our volunteers, staff and clients is our highest priority during this unprecedented global health emergency.  To ensure your safety, St. Petersburg Free Clinic Leadership has set forth the following mandatory protocols for all active We Help volunteers:

If you test positive or have been informed that you have had close contact with someone who is positive, please contact the Free Clinic as soon as possible, and do not report to your volunteer shift without first speaking to Free Clinic staff. We ask this so that we may make the proper notifications to anyone you may have been in close contact with at the Free Clinic.  Your identity will not be revealed to other volunteers. Any volunteer who tests positive is asked to quarantine for 14 days from the date of the positive test. Volunteers should be tested again 10 days after the positive test (or later, but not before the 10 day mark). At the end of the 14-day period, if a volunteer has a negative test result, has had no fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, and other symptoms are improving, the volunteer may return to the Free Clinic following a discussion with their supervisor.

If you are informed that you have had close contact with a confirmed positive case, please contact Free Clinic staff to discuss the circumstances of your potential exposure. Depending on the circumstances of your contact, you may be asked to quarantine prior to returning to volunteer. Volunteers who have a close contact with a confirmed positive case will be asked to quarantine for 14 days from the date of contact. Volunteers should be tested 10 days after exposure (or later, but not before the 10-day mark). At the end of the 14-day period, if a volunteer has a negative test result, the volunteer may return to work following a discussion with their supervisor.

  • Volunteers attest that they can answer “NO” to all COVID-19 Screening questions before EACH volunteer shift.  Staff will be on hand to assist. If any risk factors become evident as a result of this screening, staff will ask the volunteer to go home immediately:
    • Have you had a fever within the last 24 hours?
    • Have you been notified by the Department of Health that you have potentially come in contact with a COVID-19 positive individual?
    • Have you traveled internationally within the last 14 days?
  • All volunteers at each shift will receive a temperature check.  Volunteers will log their temperature at each shift on the volunteer sign in sheet. Any volunteers with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be asked to return home (and rest!).
  • All volunteers are required to take a “hand washing break” once per hour, in addition to washing as needed after accidental surface contact, facial contact or human to human contact.  Be sure to follow the 20-second hand washing rule!
  • Any volunteer coming in direct contact with unpackaged food items (produce, etc) should wear gloves at all times and follow glove safety protocols.  The program staff will review proper glove protocol with each volunteer. 
  • Volunteers and staff are required to wear a mask at all times while working and in Free Clinic buildings or on Free Clinic property (even outdoors). Plastic Face Shields alone are not sufficient.  When you volunteer, we ask that you wear a face mask (cloth or disposable) at all times.  If you do choose to wear a plastic face shield. We ask that you also wear a face mask.  
  • We ask that volunteers follow “social distancing” guidelines -keeping at least six feet distance between people whenever possible.
  • Staff will ask any volunteer exhibiting signs of illness to go home immediately.  

PLEASE NOTE: While the Free Clinic is following all guidelines and best practices to keep our volunteers, clients and staff safe and healthy, we want to emphasize that when you choose to volunteer during this critical time, you are accepting some risk due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

In many of our volunteer positions, you will likely be interacting with multiple clients per shift. If at any point you do not feel comfortable volunteering, we encourage you to step away for now (please let us know first, of course), and we will welcome you back at any time. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the volunteer team right away so they may be promptly addressed.