Wednesday, April 22nd News

The first responders who represent Okeechobee County got a special treat yesterday. Sheriff Noel Stephen and Commissioner David Hazellief joined forces and cooked up a barbecue lunch for the sheriff’s deputies, police officers, health department workers, emergency management personnel and Okeechobee Utility Authority (OUA) who have helped to keep the community safe in the wake of the Coronavirus and thank them for their service in this time. Hazellief says this was something that was in the works for a while and the COVID-19 situation just happened to be coincidental (Okeechobee First Responders’ Lunch 1). Sheriff Stephen says this lunch was served to two hundred first responders, all while observing social distancing. While making a meal for that many people may seem like a big undertaking for some, it really wasn’t so for he and Commissioner Hazellief (Okeechobee First Responders’ Lunch 2). The meal consisted of barbecue chicken, scalloped potatoes and green beans, all donated by Century 21 Hazellief and Prevatt. Several from the sheriff’s department and fire department contributed to getting these meals prepared and served to the first responders. Today, Sheriff Stephen and Commissioner Hazellief will be doing the same for the doctors and nurses at Raulerson Hospital.

Another positive case of the Coronavirus has unfortunately affected Okeechobee County. County Health Department officials reported yesterday there was another positive case of the Coronavirus. This new case involves a 62 year old woman who is a local resident and a staff member at the Okeechobee Health Care Facility. That is the third positive case of the virus reported in the county over the last four days. A 76 year old woman was reported on Saturday to have the virus and a 46 year old woman, was reported to have it on Sunday. Both women are also local residents. That now makes eight positive cases of the Coronavirus in the county since the first one was reported at the beginning of this month. Seven of the eight people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from 33 to 76 with the median age of the patients being 62. The lone non-resident is also the only man affected. 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.

As of last evening, Martin County officials are reporting they have 160 cases of the Coronavirus with four fatalities, Hendry County now has 46 cases with one fatality, a 77 year old man from LaBelle. Glades County has five cases with one fatality, Highlands County has 71 cases with seven fatalities, Osceola has 417 cases with six fatalities and Palm Beach has 2320 cases with 131 fatalities. There are now 27,869 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state, with 27,127 of them being FL residents. The state’s death toll stands at 867 with 4,226 people hospitalized.

All gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and other places where large gatherings can happen remain closed at this time. School campuses still remain closed now until the end of the school year as ordered by Governor Ron DeSantis on Sunday 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. 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.

Hendry County residents can be tested at the Clewiston Center on the three hundred block of W.C. Owen Avenue in Clewiston and now the Florida Department of Health in Hendry County has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to be a collection site for COVID-19 testing. This will expand testing capabilities in Hendry and Glades Counties. Appointments can be made at the Clewiston Health Department on Tuesdays from 10 am to 12 noon at (863) 983-1408 and appointments can be made at the LaBelle Health Department on Fridays from 10 am to 12 noon at (863) 674-4041. Residents in both counties need to contact their healthcare provider for more information on the process.

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 beginning today. 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.

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.

Chalo Nitka Grounds on 10th Street in Moore Haven will be having a food pantry on Tuesday, April 28th beginning at 10 o’clock. When you get there, just pop open your trunk; you don’t even have to leave your vehicle. There will also be one on Thursday at Church of God, Inc., on South Estribo Street in Clewiston. Other food pantries can be found by logging on to www.feedingflorida.org

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.

A Clewiston man is facing serious charges in connection with a vehicle accident last fall that ended up killing a Bradenton woman. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers arrested 32 year old Larry Gerome Willis Monday afternoon and charged him with vehicular homicide in the death of 26 year old Francesca Antoine on the afternoon of September 7th in Hendry County. FHP investigators say Willis was driving a Dodge Caravan east on Route 80 shortly before two o’clock while at the same time Antoine was coming from the opposite way, driving a Kia Rio sedan. Willis was passing slower traffic in a no-passing zone and as Antoine approached, both she and Willis’ vehicle swerved toward the north shoulder of the road and the left side of Willis’ vehicle collided with Antoine’s car, causing it to go over an embankment. Antoine was pronounced dead at the scene. Willis, who was driving on a suspended license, received serious injuries in the accident and was treated at Lee Memorial Hospital. He was booked into county jail and he’s being held without bond.

On the arrest report:

35 year old Rocio Solis of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for petit theft. Her bond has not been set.

57 year old Brian Anthony Guzowski of Okeechobee was arrested for burglary of an unoccupied home, loitering, obstructing and interfering with railroad tracks when he ran from the scene and crossed railroad tracks to flee law enforcement. His bond is set at $7250 dollars.

34 year old Jack Owen Albritton of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on past charges of trafficking in stolen property. He’s being held without bond.