News Cast 7/10

News Cast for July 10th:

Today is a very special day for the businesses in Okeechobee County, mainly those who were forced to close down when the Coronavirus first hit back in March. County officials are teaming up with the Okeechobee County Economic Development Corporation (OCEDC) to provide funding, courtesy of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to businesses that suffered from the state required closings. Megan Smith, President and CEO of the OCEDC, says the program will offer a one-time grant of $75 hundred dollars to qualifying small businesses and five thousand dollars to independent contractors/sole proprietors to cover expenses like rent, employee wages and other bills that their insurance didn’t cover. Smith says this is a breath of fresh air for these businesses.

Business owners can apply for these funds by logging on to www.ocedcorp.com or by calling (863) 357-2334 beginning this morning at any time. Grants are awarded on a first come, first serve basis.

The Okeechobee County Commissioners met yesterday and one of the items they discussed was the status of the Coronavirus in the county. Tiffany Collins of the County Health Department says there is still a need for free, asymptomatic testing here and she says she’ll be writing an email to the state officials asking for help in that department. Some good news from Collins is the CARES Act funding the County Health Department has received to fund some needed outpatient service positions which will be a big help to the community and the health department.

Collins says Okeechobee County still ranks number six in the state in pediatric cases of the Coronavirus and Florida ranks fourth in the number of positive cases in the nation. The majority of testing will focus on those in the high-risk category such as people over the age of 65 with health issues, pregnant women and first responders.

Okeechobee County Emergency Management Director Mitch Smeykal also spoke at the meeting and he says with schools set to re-open next month, his department will be handing out procedure masks for students which are disposable. Smeykal says while it’s not known if schools will require masks for students, his department has gotten off to a head start.

Smeykal also reported that supply chains in supermarkets are still doing well, even though it’s a sort of “hit or miss” when it comes to paper products. He recommends checking out Costco or possibly Home Depot because often people don’t tend to think of looking there. Commissioners also renewed the local state of emergency for another week beginning today.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Okeechobee County increased slightly. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of positive cases for the Coronavirus in Okeechobee County is now at 459. 457 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to 93 with the median age of the patients being 35. 46 patients have been hospitalized. Thankfully there have been no fatalities. 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.

Most neighboring counties also experienced increases in their COVID-19 statistics recently. As of yesterday morning, Martin County has 2,545 positive cases of the Coronavirus with 36 fatalities, Hendry County has 1,135 reported cases now with 27 fatalities, Glades County is still at 189 reported cases with one fatality, Highlands County is at 473 cases with 12 fatalities, Osceola County has 3,466 positive cases with 31 fatalities and Palm Beach has 18,656 cases with 578 fatalities. There are now 232,718 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state; 229,367 of them are FL residents. The state’s death toll now stands at 4,009 with 17,167 people hospitalized.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the Coronavirus at CVS Pharmacy in Okeechobee, 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. Wal-Mart is no longer doing their drive-thru testing program as of now.

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.

The Gulf Coast Humane Society was in Clewiston last week to discuss the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars. With a heat index in the triple digits lately, many pets are at risk for heatstroke or suffocation. On a warm day, the temperature in a car can exceed 120 degrees in a matter of minutes, even with the windows partially open. Nicole Reid, News Director for WAFC, our sister station in Clewiston, spoke with Aimie McLaughlin, Gulf Coast Humane Society’s events coordinator. She says it’s not safe, even if you park in the shade or crack a window.

Many states have laws that prohibit leaving an animal unattended in a car on a hot day, for risk of both theft and heat. If you must travel with your pets in the heat, get a checkup from the vet first, carry a gallon thermos of cold or frozen water, and be sure to exercise your pets during the coolest parts of the day. For tips on pet safety, please visit www.aspca.org or your local humane society.

 On the arrest report:

42 year old John Francis Nettle Junior of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on battery charges. His bond is set at five hundred dollars.

42 year old Laura Emily Townsend of Okeechobee was arrested for leaving the scene of a vehicle accident. She was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

19 year old Maynard Dashon Fuse of Okeechobee, an inmate at the county jail, was arrested for battery on a fellow inmate and petit theft. His bond is set at $55 hundred dollars.

35 year old James Henry Schock of Okeechobee was arrested by police for simple assault and battery and witness tampering following a domestic dispute. His bond is set at $15 hundred dollars.