News Cast 12/29

News Cast for December 29th:

Slowly, but surely, vaccinations are underway in Okeechobee County. Between Tuesday of last week, when Raulerson Hospital began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations from Moderna to distribute, and today, a total of 51 local residents have been vaccinated for the Coronavirus. Okeechobee County Emergency Management Director Mitch Smeykal says those who’ve been vaccinated have consisted mainly of first responders and high-risk health care workers. Those who reside in nursing homes and assisted living facilities will be getting their vaccinations beginning this Thursday, New Year’s Eve. Smeykal says despite the recent snowstorm in the northeast, there hasn’t been much of a problem in getting the vaccines delivered here in a relatively timely fashion and he equates that to the time when the county was getting the vaccines for the H1N1 flu virus back in 2010.

Meanwhile, Mayor Dowling Watford couldn’t be any more excited that the process of vaccinating is underway in the community.

Thus far, according to the state department of health, more than two thousand people on the Treasure Coast have been vaccinated. People age 65 and older will be the next group scheduled to receive the vaccine after those in nursing homes and assisted living.

During a recent meeting of the Okeechobee County Commissioners, they received a progress report on the county’s jail expansion and renovation project. Joe Mrak, the Principal of Lehigh Acres-based Securitecture, the architectural firm that is in charge of the project, says schematic designs on the project are now underway and he and his representatives have met with the sheriff’s department and discussed the plans and made some refinements to them and they plan on meeting with the sheriff’s department twice a month and make revisions as needed. Mrak says the plans and designs for inmate housing pods are pretty much complete but the area that will require the most work is the existing building on the site that is the sheriff’s office and prison intake area. Mrak says it may be better to move the sheriff’s office to another building in the area that is not in use so needed work can be done on the current site.

Some buildings being suggested as a temporary home for the sheriff’s department include the old Alderman and the old driver’s license buildings respectively. Mrak says he and his staff are also beginning to meet with local agencies about permitting in case of any delays in the project. Construction on the new jail and renovations should begin in July.

On the subject of COVID-19 in Okeechobee County yesterday, it was a case of double bad news as the number of positive cases rose by 39 over the Christmas holiday and the number of fatalities rose by one. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the FL Department of Health, Okeechobee County has 2,347 recorded positive cases of the Coronavirus since March and fatalities are now at 51. 2,329 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 forty. 232 county residents have been hospitalized as that figure remained steady. Those who have 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 have reported 1,280,177 positive COVID-19 cases since March and 1,258,315 of those are FL residents. Florida’s death toll now stands at 21,308 with 61,663 people hospitalized since March.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested, by appointment only, for the Coronavirus at the County Health Department between the hours of eight and four every Monday thru Thursday and eight to two on Fridays. 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, or just bring photo identification. Testing is free in both locations.

If you have 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. . The local health department offers COVID-19 testing every Monday thru Friday for first responders and for those who have symptoms.

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-area boy is dead following a vehicle accident Christmas morning in Highlands County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the boy, who was 12 years old, was reportedly riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on some private property on the seven hundred block of Henscratch Road in Lake Placid at around 10:15 when the bike collided with a standing tree. FHP officers say a low-hanging tree limb then went over the hood of the ATV and struck the boy head on. On-scene medics transported the boy to a local medical facility for treatment where he was later pronounced dead. It remains under investigation. The victim’s name is not being released by FHP due to Marsy’s Law.

On the arrest report:

31 year old Cory Ray Jenkins of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for possession of the controlled substance hydromorphone without a prescription and not having the proper endorsement on his driver’s license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a $55 hundred dollar bond.

47 year old Donna Marie Ramsey of Okeechobee was arrested for not paying child support. Her bond is set at a thousand dollars.

36 year old Sheena Michele Watford of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on past charges of petit theft and fraudulent use of a credit card. She’s being held without bond.

26 year old Andrea Marie Hatfield of Okeechobee was arrested on a local capias warrant for petit theft. Her bond is set at five hundred dollars.

18 year old Namon Richard Anderson of Okeechobee was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and grand theft of a firearm. His bond is set at $25 thousand dollars.

28 year old Jimmy Paul Wellman of Okeechobee was arrested for contempt of court for failing to appear to answer for past charges of trespassing. He was released after posting a $15 hundred dollar bond.

33 year old Arturo Casas of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on past charges of petit theft. His bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.

38 year old Jose Alejandro Gonzalez of Okeechobee was arrested for drunk driving and driving without a valid license after a traffic stop and field sobriety test. His bond is set at $1250.00 dollars.