Public events will include screenings

Get information from CDC, not from social media

OKEECHOBEE — Fears of the spread of the coronavirus did not stop the Speckled Perch Festival and Cowtown Rodeo this weekend. The Okeechobee County Fair and Youth Livestock Show will go on as planned this week.

At a special meeting Friday, March 13, Okeechobee County Public Safety Director Ralph Franklin said event providers have been directed to use the screening process provided by the health department as well as signage, extra hand washing stations and sanitizer to keep those attending public events as safe as possible. He said the county will place messaging boards on State Road 710 to alert county fair attendees that COVID-19 screening is in place at the gate.

There are no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Okeechobee County.

Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee Department of Health said she advises those most at risk from the virus, such as people over the age of 65 who have underlying health conditions, to avoid all mass gatherings. (See story, Page 4.)

Ms. Collins also updated the Okeechobee County commissioners on the COVID-19 or coronavirus at their regular March 12 meeting.

Ms. Collins said a lot of misinformation has been circulating about the coronavirus. She recommended citizens get information from the Florida Department of Health website, floridahealth.gov, or the Centers for Disease Control, cdc.gov.

Hotline available
The Florida Department of Health has also established a 24-hour hotline for those with questions about coronavirus: 866-779-6121.

She said those most at risk are those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health issues such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.

Of those infected with COVID-19, about 85 percent will have only mild symptoms, she said. “About 5 percent will have extremely severe symptoms — those are the ones who are showing up at the hospitals.”

She said the health department works with medical providers to arrange for testing, monitor cases and quarantine as needed.

Anyone who believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 should call their doctor or the health department.

“Do not just show up at your doctor’s office or the ER,” she stressed.

The health department advises everyone to:
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds;
• Avoid close contact with sick people;
• Stay home when you are sick;
• If kids are sick, keep them home. Do not send them to school.

Anyone with a fever of 100.4 or greater should stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing drug.

There is no cure for COVID-19, she said. “Right now, providers are treating the symptoms.”

Ms. Collins said they have heard employers are telling people they can’t come back to work until they have been tested for coronavirus.

“Right now testing isn’t readily available,” said. Those who have missed work due to illness should follow the normal protocol for returning to work, such as going to your doctor and getting clearance.

She said Florida Department of Health has given the county department screening protocols about when to test. Tests from Okeechobee County go to the Florida Department of Health lab in Miami.

Currently, in Okeechobee County, only Raulerson Hospital and the county health department can collect samples to send the lab in Miami. She urged residents to call the hospital if they have concerns and not just show up in the ER.

She said the health department is working with local labs to get the supplies they need to test locally.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said he is getting questions from the public, asking if they should they cancel public events such as the county fair.

Ms. Collins said the recommendation is if you are over 65 or have underlying medical conditions you should be taking the precautions to protect yourself.

“If you are healthy and want to attend these events, that’s fine,” she said.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said she participated in a White House briefing and learned that over $8 billion has been allocated to appropriate supplies such as tests, respirators as well as development of vaccine.

She said 2.8 million tests have already entered the market and 3 million more are expected this week.

“In terms of people hearing there aren’t enough tests, that might alleviate that concern,” she said.

Blood donors needed
“For some reason, people are shying away from donating blood, which could create a blood shortage,” said the commissioner.

“If you are a regular blood donor, we urge you to continue donating blood.”

The commissioners also wondered if there will be any exceptions to the rule that county meetings must have a quorum of members physically present. County Attorney Wade Vose said currently state law does not allow for “virtual” meetings, but due to the extraordinary circumstances there may be relief from with further guidance from the attorney general’s office.

The small business association is working toward assisting businesses impacting this economically, said Commissioner Owens.

“So the best way to get your information is NOT from Facebook sites?” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. “I keep trying to tell people that.”

“Any cancellation should be evidence based,” said Mr. Vose. “The best evidence you are going to get will come from the health department.”

Ms. Collins said the Okeechobee Music Festival producers complied with Florida Department of Health rules.

“We worked with the medical team at the fest so they knew exactly what to do and what to look for,” she aid.

In addition, representatives of the county’s environmental health office were at the festival there at least twice a day checking water and sanitation and making sure that it was meeting health standards.

“Some people get tired of listening about this, but I don’t think you can ever get too much information about something that can take your life,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs.

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