News Cast 10/21

News Cast for October 21st:

It’s done and it’s now official, over a year after the idea was first introduced with endless meetings and a town hall in between. Come next spring, the Okeechobee City Fire Department will be no more following a vote taken by Okeechobee City Councilmembers during their meeting last night.  Councilmembers voted to approve the proposed inter-local agreement with the county to provide fire protective services to the city. With this agreement, city firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMT’s) who choose to join the Okeechobee County Fire Department will be certified paramedics or get certified within a couple of years to stay with the department. The measure passed by a four to one vote, with Mayor Dowling Watford once again dissenting as he has all along. Watford, as he has pointed out before, says it’s a matter of services to the city, services that the city residents want, but now it’s not going to happen by the city fire department. Watford suggested that this issue could’ve gone to a referendum but, simply put, the councilmembers took it upon themselves to decide.

The inter-local agreement takes effect June 1st and that will officially end over 105 years of service the city fire department provided. Watford says it’ll be a sad day when that day comes.

City fire department personnel, whether they join the county or not, will receive a severance package based on their years of service. Members of the city fire department chose not to comment at this time.

This past Friday, for the second time in as many weeks, Okeechobee County school officials have had to send students home because of COVID-19. County School Superintendent Ken Kenworthy says 27 students from Osceola Middle School were sent home as of last week because a student tested positive for the virus and these 27 students were reportedly within six feet of the infected student.  Kenworthy says however, they may not have to stay away for the normal 14 days because this new positive case was reportedly discovered earlier than last week; sometime around October 8th. Either way, Kenworthy says students who are sent home for online learning are chomping at the bit to physically return to school.

A few weeks ago, Osceola was the victim of a positive test by a staff member and thirty students and four staff members were sent home for online learning. With these new added numbers, more than 187 students and staff have been sent home due to COVID-19 since school began in August.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Okeechobee County as of yesterday rose yet again, but fortunately, the number of fatalities stayed the same.  As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the FL Department of Health, Okeechobee County has 1,680 positive cases of the Coronavirus since March, and the number of fatalities remains at 37. 1,675 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to an even one hundred with the median age of the patients being forty. County residents that are hospitalized also remain unchanged at 189.  Those who’ve tested positive are being cooperative with the county and their health providers and going through routine contact tracing. Along with fever, coughing and shortness of breath, other COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for include chills, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat and a sudden loss of sense of smell or sense of taste. Overall, as of yesterday morning, the state has 760,389 positive COVID-19 cases since March and 750,739 of them are FL residents. Florida’s death toll is at 16,105 with 47,352 people hospitalized.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested, by appointment only, for the Coronavirus at the County Health Department between the hours of eight o’clock in the morning and two o’clock in the afternoon. This is an oral swab test. The Florida Community Health Centers have a drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing site available every Tuesday and Thursday from eight o’clock in the morning until noon at the former Okeechobee Surgery Center located at 1655 Highway 441 North. No appointment is necessary and you don’t need insurance, but if you have it, please bring your insurance card, otherwise please bring photo identification. Testing is free in both locations. The Okeechobee County COVID-19 information line remains open from 8am to 5pm now every Tuesday thru Saturday. This number, which also doubles as the phone number of the County Library is manned by live personnel and callers can ask about county updates on the Coronavirus and what is being done. The hotline will not address questions about the virus itself or medical questions. The County Library phone number/hotline related to county updates on the Coronavirus is (863) 763-3536. Any questions related to the virus itself, please call the Okeechobee Health Department at (863) 462-5800 or the 24/7 Department of Health hotline at (866) 779-6121. Remember, the key to avoiding the Coronavirus is good personal hygiene. Washing your hands for at least 20-30 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in it is recommended. Avoid touching your eyes or face with unwashed hands. Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from someone when greeting them and not shaking any hands. Avoid shopping at peak hours and use delivery services instead.  Avoid places where there are 10 people or more. If you need further information about the virus and recommendations for preventing it, please log on to the Department of Health at floridahealth.gov or the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov.

On the arrest report:

45 year old Jose Luis Leon of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for driving without a valid license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a $250.00 dollar bond.

38 year old Brett Allen Jimmerson of Okeechobee was arrested on battery charges. His bond is set at $750.00 dollars.

40 year old German Chavez of Okeechobee was arrested for drunk driving after a traffic stop and field sobriety test. His bond is set at five hundred dollars.

44 year old Stacey Colleen Pope of Okeechobee was arrested by police for disorderly intoxication. Her bond has not been set.

32 year old Sheldon Cyril Fortune of Clewiston was arrested for driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop and loitering. He was released after posting a one thousand dollar bond.