Officials try to keep residents safe

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Lake Okeechobee area officials are working to keep their communities safe.

Lake Okeechbobee/Katrina Elsken
OKEECHOBEE – Chad Alderman cleans and sanitizes a cart for a customer at the Okeechobee Publix supermarket on Monday. The store ran out of the sanitizing wipes normally available for customers’ use at the store entrance, so employees cleaned the carts between each use.

As of March 17, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) reported 173 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida. Okeechobee, Hendry and Glades counties have no confirmed cases. Palm Beach County has nine confirmed cases. Collier County and Osceola County each have six.

Areas with the most confirmed cases in Florida are Broward County with 43 confirmed cases, and Miami-Dade County with 32 confirmed cases.

Of the Florida residents tested so far, 940 had negative results; 872 are waiting for results.

DOH has added an online dashboard on the floridahealth.gov website, with a map showing confirmed cases in the state. The map is updated twice a day.

Local events canceled
As concerns about the pandemic spread in recent weeks, public gatherings were discouraged with the number allowed to gather in public shrinking with each day’s recommendation. Last week, the governor recommended canceling events that would draw more than 1,000 persons. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control recommended canceling gatherings expected to attract more than 50 persons. On Tuesday, the White House has advised Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 persons.

Many in the Lake Okeechobee area communities were disappointed by the cancellations of traditional spring events such as the Clewiston Sugar Festival, the Black Gold Jubilee in Belle Glade, the Speckled Perch Festival Parade, the Okeechobee County Fair and the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Show. The Muse Honey Festival has also been canceled.
Smaller local events and celebrations will be also postponed or canceled. For example, the Hendry Regional Medical Center Foundation Board of Directors has decided to postpone the 2020 Social Celebration which was scheduled to take place on March 28 at Hilliard Brothers property.

Protect yourself and others
DOH offers the following common sense precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as other illnesses.
• Stay home if you are sick.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
• If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that people who are well to wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Face masks should only be worn by persons who are sick or persons caring for them.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and hard surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

What about testing?
Wonder if you should be tested for COVID-19? Call your health care provider, hospital or county health department. While more testing sites are being set up nationwide, testing is not available “on demand.” Testing is only done if a health care screening indicates it is needed. Call first, before going to a doctor’s office, county health department or hospital emergency room.

According to DOH, a person who is tested will have three specimens taken: oral, nasal and saliva. The samples will be given to the county health department, which will then either ship or deliver them to the closest state laboratory. (There are three state laboratories in Florida.) If a specimen is tested positive, it will be identified as “presumptive positive” until the result is confirmed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

State parks
Florida State Parks are still open for day use, but all special events and organized activities have been canceled. Camping has been discontinued in state parks. Park hours have been changed to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on state parks online, go to floridastateparks.org.

Hotline
The Florida Department of Health has a call center for COVID-19 information, available 24/7: 866-779-6121.

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