News Cast 11/27

News Cast for November 27th:

Pending ratification from the Okeechobee City Council, the Okeechobee City Fire Department will officially close its doors for good on June 1st of next year. During their meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Okeechobee County Commissioners approved the proposed inter-local agreement with the city to provide fire protective services to the entire community, essentially ending the existence of the Okeechobee City Fire Department after more than 105 years of service to its residents. As a part of this agreement, the county will retain ten of the twelve employees of the city’s fire department, seven of whom consist of firefighters/emergency medical technicians (EMT’s) and they will also be certified paramedics. One will serve as a fire inspector. The other three will need to decide within two years if they would like to obtain paramedic licenses or be released. The measure passed by a four to one vote, with Commissioner Bryant Culpepper dissenting. Culpepper, a former firefighter and EMT in Palm Beach County, says simply put, this is a bad day for the city of Okeechobee.

Meanwhile, County Fire Chief Ralph Franklin says he’s looking forward to working with the city firefighters and there’s literally already a place for them in his department.

Okeechobee City Councilmembers approved the inter-local agreement, also by a four to one vote on October 20th, with Mayor Dowling Watford being the lone dissenting voice. City councilmembers will ratify the inter-local agreement at their next meeting Tuesday night, making it official.

Today is November 27th and it’s officially Black Friday, the time for the annual start of Christmas shopping. With that, officials from the Okeechobee County Chamber of Commerce paid a visit to the commissioners’ meeting earlier this month and presented a proclamation for tomorrow to be named Small Business Saturday in Okeechobee, which the commissioners approved unanimously. It’s a time for residents to take the time to do their Christmas shopping at small businesses in the community as opposed to the larger, more known, stores. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paulette Wise was on hand for the proclamation and she says because of COVID-19, it’s especially important for shoppers to shop here in town at the smaller businesses and to help with that, besides their usual marketing, the Chamber of Commerce is producing videos of small businesses of those that reach out to them to show that these businesses are open and ready to service shoppers. Wise says because of the pandemic, it’s important for people to shop local not just during Christmas time but year-round.

Wise and Office Manager Mariah Parriott say these videos of these small businesses have been shown on their You Tube Channel since yesterday and will continue through tomorrow. If you have a small business and would like to have it showcased like this, please contact the Chamber of Commerce at www.okeechobeebusiness.com. It’s sponsored by American Express.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Okeechobee County as of Wednesday unfortunately rose by ten and that officially put us over the two thousand mark, but fortunately the number of fatalities once again stayed the same for the 15th straight day.  As of Wednesday morning, courtesy of the FL Department of Health, Okeechobee County has 2,008 positive cases of the Coronavirus since March, and fatalities are still numbering at 43. 1,995 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 are numbering at 206. 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 Wednesday morning, officials from the state health department are reporting 961,676 positive COVID-19 cases since March and 946,956 of those are FL residents. Florida’s death toll is at 18,254 with 54,133 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.

If you have any questions related to the virus itself, you can direct them to the Okeechobee County 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:

35 year old Jack Owen Albritton of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for being accused of sexual battery. His bond is set at five thousand dollars.

26 year old Andrea Leigh Hatfield of Okeechobee was arrested for petit theft and two counts of claiming false ownership to a pawnbroker. Her bond is set at $11 thousand dollars.

25 year old Taylor Leanne Lowe of Okeechobee was arrested for not paying child support. Her bond is set at $250.00 dollars.

37 year old Willie Lee Ford of Quincy was arrested on warrants from Gadsden County for jumping bail on past charges of drug possession. He’s being held without bond.