News Cast 11/11

News Cast for November 11th:

Okeechobee County remains in a local state of emergency because of the recent heavy rain and strong winds that were the result of Tropical Storm Eta this past weekend and into this week. While the storm caused no damages nor injured anyone, there was one casualty and that was the arrival of the state’s Mobile COVID-19 Testing Bus that was scheduled to be in the county today on this Veterans Day to test people who wished to be tested. Mitch Smeykal of the county’s Emergency Management Department says the testing bus was brought back up to Tallahassee because of the state of emergency not just in Okeechobee County but in at least two dozen Florida counties and the potential weather threats for much of the state throughout the week. Smeykal says with these forecasts, what needs to be of concern is not winds, but potential flooding.

Smeykal says people need not worry because the Mobile COVID Testing Bus might be back later this month or the beginning of next month. The last time it was in Okeechobee County was back in June. You can download the Okeechobee Emergency Management app to your smartphone for updates on the Mobile COVID Testing Bus and when it will arrive next. Meanwhile Tropical Storm Eta is still in the Gulf of Mexico heading north and it could make landfall by Friday possibly in the Apalachicola area.

The issue of fire protective services in the city of Okeechobee was a topic of discussion during last week’s city council meeting and this time it dealt with what to do with city firefighters’ annual and sick leave pay. According to the inter-local agreement recently approved by the city council to have the county handle fire protective services for the city, Okeechobee City Firefighters and EMT’s have the choice of getting either 50 percent of their accumulated sick and annual leave in a payout or having it carried over to the county. Councilmembers did not make any decision, waiting for some more accurate figures and see if the city firefighters can be offered a full payout of their sick and annual leave time. Mayor Dowling Watford says either way, the city would have to pay for this. Watford believes a payout to the city fire employees is the best course of action because it would not only be cheaper for the city.

The issue will be brought back up before the city council during their next meeting on Tuesday night. City firefighters declined to comment on the matter.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Okeechobee County as of yesterday unfortunately rose by 17 more cases and unfortunately, the numbers of fatalities also rose by one.  As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the FL Department of Health, Okeechobee County has 1,823 positive cases of the Coronavirus since March, and fatalities now number at 43. 1,818 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from infant to one hundred with the median age of the patients being an even forty. Hospitalized county residents also rose by one and they now number at 195. 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.

As of yesterday morning, officials from the state health department are reporting 852,174 positive COVID-19 cases since March and 840,652 of those are FL residents. Florida’s death toll is at 17,248 with 50,872 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 or the Center for Disease Control at

A Sebring man is in critical condition following a vehicle accident last Wednesday night in Highlands County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the man, who is 23 years old, was standing on the grass median of US Highway 27 near Thunderbird Road in Sebring shortly after 10:40 when he began to run across the southbound lanes right in front of an approaching tractor trailer. The driver of the truck could not stop in time before colliding with the man. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The truck driver was not injured in the accident. It remains under investigation. Due to Marsy’s Law, FHP is not releasing the names of the people involved in the accident.

On the arrest report:

25 year old Haley Diane Chouinard of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for petit theft from a store for the second time. She was released after posting a one thousand dollar bond.

44 year old Randy Torres of Okeechobee was arrested for grand theft auto, dealing in stolen property and having the wrong license plate attached to the vehicle. His bond is set at $36 thousand dollars.

41 year old Nicki Lynn Gatlin of Okeechobee was arrested for trespassing. Her bond is set at five hundred dollars.

33 year old Andrew Timothy Batista of Stuart was arrested for reckless driving after a traffic stop. His bond is set at one thousand dollars.