News Cast 7/17

News Cast for July 17th:

Okeechobee County Commissioners will be in session again today for day two of the county budgets. Commissioners will speak with officials from the health department, public defender’s office and senior services. The meeting will begin at nine o’clock and it’ll be held in the Historic County Courthouse. It’ll be streamed live on the commissioners’ website.

Candidates for elected offices in Okeechobee County gathered last night in the Freshman Campus Auditorium for a special candidates’ forum and answer questions from the public a month before the primary election. Three of the five candidates for Supervisor of Elections were amongst those that were featured. One of them is Rodney Rucks, an Okeechobee native and deputy sheriff. Rucks says it’s a civic duty to serve on a jury and exercise the right to vote and he believes his integrity and leadership ability will help him win. He wants to also solve the problem of low voter turnout during elections  and he feels the best way to do that is going out and educating people, specifically the young.

Faith Nielson, Deputy County Elections Supervisor, is also running for the top spot and she says she learned a lot from current Elections Supervisor Diane Hagan in terms of how to do the job. Nielson says addressing the low voter turnouts for elections and voter registration is about being more proactive in the community in areas where the numbers are the lowest.

The third candidate, Melissa Arnold, a small business owner and state committeewoman for the Republican Party, says she’s running because she believes the elections office can be improved to go from good to great. To address the low voter turnouts and registration she says it’s about getting into the community but also purging the current voting role.

Candidates for the District 55 Florida House, attorney Kaylee Tuck and citrus industry businessman Ned Hancock were in attendance and one of the issues brought up with both candidates was water quality in Okeechobee. Tuck says it feels like famers are being attacked on water quality when in fact they’ve improved it through best management practices to reduce phosphorus levels.

Hancock says it’s about transitioning from septic to sewer and addressing the immediate basin or lake area and tributaries to the lake.

Tuck says if elected she plans on bringing conservative values to this generation of young people and Hancock says he can deliver the support this district needs from Tallahassee. Other candidates who spoke include Kelly Owens and Jack Boon for County Commissioner District 5 and David Hazellief and Mark Brandel for District 1 County Commissioner.

Okeechobee County is at the cusp of the six century mark in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of positive cases in Okeechobee County is at 597 with two fatalities. 594 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to 94 with the median age of the patients being 35. 56 county residents have been hospitalized. 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, there are 315,775 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state since March and 311,632 of them are FL residents. The state’s death toll now stands at 4,677 with 19,825 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.

Speaking of testing sites, Okeechobee County residents and commissioners can rejoice knowing that there will be a free, asymptomatic COVID-19 testing site for use tomorrow. Officials from the local health department announced this week that there will be a free, walk-up COVID-19 testing site tomorrow. Commissioner Kelly Owens says she was “extremely pleased” that there will be free testing for a large number of people and it won’t have the restrictive conditions that most testing sites have in the community. Owens says she hopes having this free testing site will let the state know that there is a need here for more free testing sites and possibly end the stigma that testing isn’t needed here just because Okeechobee is a small, rural county.

Owens says the success of this testing site on Saturday will go a long way in getting more free testing sites here. The testing will take place at 1728 NW 9th Avenue beginning at 8:30 in the morning and will continue until four o’clock or until five hundred people have been tested, whichever comes first.

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.

Okeechobee County Emergency Management officials say there will be mosquito control spraying efforts in the southeast areas of the county tonight and tomorrow night, weather permitting. Emergency Management Director Mitch Smeykal says there will be spraying of adulticide, an insecticide designed to attack adult mosquitos and control their breeding. Smeykal says adulticide is approved and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but it’s probably best to stay indoors while the spraying is going on. If you do go outside, wear long sleeves, use a mosquito repellent with the DEET chemical in it and make sure your pets are prepared. If your area has an excessive number of mosquitoes, please call Clarke Environmental at 1-800-203-6485. Any further questions can be forwarded to the Emergency Management Center at (863) 763-3212.

On the arrest report:

42 year old Luis Alvarez of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for drunk driving after a traffic stop and a field sobriety test. His bond is set at a thousand dollars.

27 year old Brianna Maggie Aguilar of Okeechobee was arrested on two counts of violating probation on undisclosed charges. She’s being held without bond.

23 year old Daniel Nunez Junior of Okeechobee was arrested on an Orange County warrant on undisclosed charges. He’s being held without bond.

42 year old Charles Chester Booker of Okeechobee was arrested by police on local warrants for undisclosed charges. His bond has not been set.