News Cast 5/15

News Cast for May 15th:

Wal-Mart has always been a one-stop shopping center but today it will be the start of more than that. The parking lot at Wal-Mart in Okeechobee County on South Parrott Avenue will be the site of a drive-thru testing for the Coronavirus. Mayor Dowling Watford says this is “good news” for the city and county of Okeechobee and the testing center is supported by not just Wal-Mart but also Quest Diagnostics and state and local officials. Adults over the age of 18 will be tested under CDC guidelines, including first responders, health care providers and others who have COVID-19 symptoms and those in a high risk group without symptoms. Watford says the drive-thru testing site will only be available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 7am to 9am each day due to availability of the pharmacists doing the tests (Watford-Drive Thru Testing Site 1). Watford hopes the success of this drive-thru testing site will make it possible for added hours at the site and to test those without symptoms at some point. To be tested, make an appointment through Quest at www.MyQuestCOVIDTest.com.

The number of positive cases for the Coronavirus in Okeechobee County remains at 32 as of last evening. 31 of the 32 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from 6 to 87 with the median age of the patients being 38. Six of the patients have been hospitalized. Of the 31 residents affected, 15 are men and 16 are women. County Health Officer Tiffany Collins told county commissioners at their meeting yesterday that there was a recent outbreak of the virus at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. People 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, Collins says other COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for now include chills, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat and a sudden loss of the sense of smell or sense of taste. County Commissioners renewed the local state of emergency for another week.

Also as of last evening, Martin County has 281 positive cases of the Coronavirus with six fatalities, Hendry County has 176 reported positive cases now with 11 fatalities.  Glades County has nine positive cases with one fatality, Highlands County has 103 cases with eight fatalities, Osceola County has 594 cases with 16 fatalities and Palm Beach has 4,278 cases with 263 fatalities.

With the start of Hurricane Season just over two weeks away, getting hurricane shelters prepared will be more of an issue in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency Management Director Mitch Smeykal spoke with county commissioners yesterday and said COVID-19 concerns will definitely have an impact for hurricane shelter preparation. There’s definitely not enough space to satisfy the state’s recommendations for social distancing, so the CDC, FEMA, the Red Cross and the Department of Health are looking at other ways to solve this problem such as co-sheltering with neighboring counties and segregating high risk population from others. Smeykal says the two places normally used for shelters, Southern Elementary and Osceola Middle Schools, usually could hold eleven hundred people but with the pandemic, it will be considerably less. Smeykal says a plan for the hurricane shelters for the pandemic will likely be in place by the start of Hurricane Season on June 1st.

Governor Ron DeSantis announced state parks have reopened access to trails and some day-use areas last week, including some beach access with limited facilities. People must practice proper social distancing and limit group size to no more than ten people and stay six feet apart. More information can be found by logging on to www.floridastateparks.com.

Officials from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) have re-opened several district managed lands for active recreation only. In re-opening them, the Water Management District officials say they will continue to follow recommendations from Governor DeSantis and others to minimize activities that result in large gatherings. Active recreational activities like hiking, biking, boating and fishing are allowed. Passive activities like picnicking, camping and gatherings of more than ten people are not permitted. For more information on re-opened District areas, log on to their website at SFWMD.gov/recreation.

Select Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) managed lands in South Florida have also re-opened with limited public use. Log on to www.myfwc.com for more information.

To get an idea of what restaurants or other businesses are open or closed in Okeechobee County, please log on to our website at www.wokc.com.

Along with the Wal-Mart parking lot on certain days, Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the Coronavirus at the Okeechobee County Health Department, the emergency room at Raulerson Hospital or by contacting Florida Community Health Centers at (863) 763-7481. You must meet certain criteria before you can be tested and you need to make an appointment. If you’re not sure if you fit the criteria to be tested, please call the county health department and they’ll let you know for sure. These testing sites are available on weekends.

The Health Care District of Palm Beach County is expanding its ongoing COVID-19 testing for residents in Glades communities. Since last month, the Health Care District has offered testing on a walk-up basis with no appointment outside the C.L. Brumback Primary Care Clinic at Lakeside Medical Center on the 39 thousand block of Hooker Highway in Belle Glade. Appointments are now necessary and you can do that by calling (561) 642-1000. Patients can access the drive-thru testing lane or you can park and walk up to the existing site. Individuals can be any age and don’t need to have symptoms to be registered and tested. Results will be sent by a Health Care District provider as soon as possible.

Raulerson Hospital in Okeechobee remains on lockdown and they are not allowing any visitors to patients at this time.

The Okeechobee County COVID-19 information line remains open from 8am to 5pm every Monday thru Friday.  This hotline 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 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:

19 year old Keondra Michelle Rawl of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on battery charges. Her bond is set at five hundred dollars.

61 year old Clarence Lee McDuffie of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on undisclosed charges. His bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.

57 year old Geneva Guyton of Okeechobee was arrested on two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer. Her bond has not been set.

19 year old Esdras Adan Villegas Lombera of Okeechobee was arrested by police for driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

48 year old Charles Joseph Acquaotta Junior of Okeechobee was arrested on charges of simple assault and battery. He was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

27 year old Courtney Marie Adams of Okeechobee was arrested for possession and use of someone’s identity, trespassing and possession of drug paraphernalia. Her bond is set at $15 hundred dollars.