Friday, April 17th News

Okeechobee County Commissioners met with the County Emergency Management personnel yesterday to discuss the status of the Coronavirus in the county. Commissioners decided to renew the local state of emergency and they will now only meet once a week, usually on Thursdays to discuss the status of the virus in the community. One item brought up was the possibility of the re-opening of all the states and economy. Emergency Management Director Mitch Smeykal says the phasing in of re-opening the states will be based on the number of positive cases a state has and population density (Smeykal-Reopening States and Economy). Despite the lack of positive cases in most counties, Smeykal says it’s unlikely Florida will be one of the states that will be designated for re-opening at the beginning of next month.

Nearly two weeks have gone by and, knock wood, still no change on the status of the Coronavirus in Okeechobee County. There are still five reported positive cases of the virus in the county, with three women and two men testing positive for the Coronavirus, with the last reported case on April 7th. Four of them are Okeechobee residents. The ages range from 33 to 74 with the median age of the patients being 61. Okeechobee County Health Officer Tiffany Collins says people who have tested positive are being cooperative with the county and their health providers and are going through routine contact tracing. 221 people in the county have been tested thus far, with 214 of those tests turning up negative and two tests still not yet determined. Collins says 75 percent of the deaths in the state caused by the Coronavirus are people over the age of 65.

As of this morning, Martin County officials are reporting they have 142 cases of the Coronavirus with four fatalities, Hendry County recently got three more positive cases, all women, raising their total to 26 cases, Glades County has five cases with one fatality, Highlands County has 66 cases with six fatalities, Osceola has 384 cases with five fatalities and Palm Beach has 1867 cases with 112 fatalities. There are now 23,340 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state, with 22,674 of them being FL residents. The state’s death toll stands at 668 with 3458 people hospitalized. Florida now ranks eighth in the country in recorded deaths from the Coronavirus.

All gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and other places where large gatherings can happen remain closed at this time. School campuses still remain closed until May 1st at the earliest with online classes continuing. Some restaurants are doing take-out orders and delivery only. To get an idea of what restaurants or other businesses are open or closed, please log on to our website at www.wokc.com. All bars, pubs and nightclubs are also still closed until further notice.

All 4-H face to face events are cancelled until July 31st. This includes summer day camps. Record books are being created in a virtual format and are due on May 1st. Any questions can be forwarded to the extension office at (863) 763-6469.

Okeechobee County Emergency Management officials say that all outdoor county parks and recreation facilities and fields have posted signs advising people to avoid any mass gatherings. These areas include all playing fields, picnic areas, pavilions and bathrooms.

As a reminder, the Okeechobee County Public Library, Parks and Recreation Rental Facilities, Swimming Pool, Agri-Civic Center and the Darrell Enfinger Sports Complex are closed to the public.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has closed public access to some district lands to protect public safety such as Kissimmee River Public Use Area, which covers Okeechobee, Highlands, Glades, Osceola and Polk Counties. Also closed is Hickory Hammock Wildlife Management Area in Highlands County. You can check with the water management’s website at www.sfwmd.gov regarding other closings.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the virus at the County Health Department, the emergency room at Raulerson Hospital or at the Fred Brown Children’s Health Center. You must meet certain criteria before you can be tested and you need to make an appointment. Dr. Alejandro Miquel, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Clinical Operations for FL Community Health Centers says while people over the age of 65, world travelers and people with chronic health conditions are very susceptible to getting the Coronavirus, pregnant women are just as, if not more, susceptible (Miquel 1). 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. Dr. Miquel says it’s best to wait if you have symptoms before asking to be tested.

Raulerson Hospital 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. For Hendry County residents, you can log on to www.preparehendry.com for information on what’s being done and check out Hendry County’s Emergency Management Facebook page.

Hendry County officials are strongly advising residents to follow CDC guidelines, specifically the latest guideline to wear cloth face coverings while in public to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus. These cloth masks should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, be secured properly and allow for breathing. Please wash your hands before putting on the covering and before you remove it. These coverings should not be placed on children under the age of two.

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 Police arrested a local woman in connection with an incident Saturday morning following a gunshot. Police were patrolling on the seven hundred block of SW 6th Street just after ten o’clock when they noticed a silver-colored Toyota sedan that matched a vehicle involved in a previous reckless driving incident. They heard a gunshot near the car and the driver, identified as 22 year old Payton Nicole Byrd, drove off. Police pursued the car down SW 6th Street before ordering Byrd to stop. She obeyed and exited the car and police then checked on her driver’s license before finding a 9mm round of ammunition in her purse. A search of her car turned up a Glock 9mm handgun and magazines from other pistols. Byrd’s passenger, who was arguing with her in the parking lot before she fled the scene, told police she usually carries a loaded pistol and she suffers from PTSD. Byrd was arrested and charged with discharging a firearm in public, carrying a concealed weapon and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She was booked into county jail and her bond is set at $13,250 dollars. No injuries reported.

On the arrest report:

40 year old Jacquelyn Joan Nolan of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on a capias warrant for introducing contraband into a detention facility. Her bond is set at five thousand dollars.

35 year old Mauro Seca Junior of Okeechobee was arrested on two counts of violating injunctions stemming from prior domestic violence incidents. His bond is set at two thousand dollars.

60 year old Robert Lee Harris of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on previous charges of passing worthless checks. His bond has not been set.

34 year old Blake Preston Sheltra of Okeechobee was arrested by police on charges of domestic battery by strangulation. His bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.