County asks National Guard to test patients and staff at Okeechobee Health Care Facility

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County officials are asking the National Guard for help to test the staff and patients of the Okeechobee Health Care Facility.

On Tuesday, OHCF reported that a staff member at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19.

At the Thursday, April 23 Okeechobee County Commission meeting, Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said he has written an email to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to expedite COVID-19 testing the 171 patients and close to 300 OHCF staff members.

He said the governor has repeatedly stated protecting the patients in nursing homes is a top priority.

“We should err on the side of caution,” he said. “We’re going to try to help expedite this in whatever way we can.”

Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee County Health Department said she had requested for the Florida National Guard to come in and test all of the staff and all of the residents even before the nurse tested positive.

“That was a request that got put on the list with all of the facilities in the state of Florida,” she said.

“After we had the positive, I pushed that request back up to the state,” she said. “I asked this be made a priority that they come test the staff and patients.”

She said the health department works with the long-term care facilities in the county daily to make sure they are following the CDC guidelines.

When OHCF got the positive, the nursing home enacted the quarantine procedure immediately to lock down the facility, she said.

“We are doing our contract tracing of this positive individual,” Ms. Collins said.

Commissioner Bradley Goodbread noted OHCF has now reported the nurse has been retested and that test was negative. He asked if that meant the first test was a false positive. The commissioner, whose mother is in the facility, said he was told they are going to retest the individual again.

Ms. Collins said while there are false positives and false negatives with the test, it could also mean the individual has recovered from the virus. She said when a first responder or health care worker tests positive, after they no longer have symptoms they must test negative twice before they are allowed to return to work.

“As far as whether or not there are being enough tests done for the population, the health department tests based on CDC criteria,” Ms. Collins said. “We do not test asymptomatically.” She said the CDC criteria are evolving.

The incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days, she said. Symptoms usually show within five to seven days. “The CDC says, it won’t show up positive on the test until 48 hours before my first symptom,” she said. “We don’t have the ability to test every day for 14 days. That is why we tell people to go home and self-isolate for 14 days.”

The health department has not run out of tests, she said.

“We order about 100 or 150 at a time. We have gotten what we needed. We have not run out of tests,” she said.

“We’ve got 21 million people in the state of Florida. They do not have enough test kits to test everyone,” said Commissioner Burroughs.

He said some people are doing the right thing in regard to social distancing, but some people aren’t doing that. In grocery stores, some are following the arrows for one-way traffic in the aisles but some aren’t. Some people are wearing masks and some aren’t.

“We still have a lot people out there spreading rumors and causing problems,” said Chairman Burroughs. “If you’ve got a question, call one of the commissioners.”

Editor’s note: To contact the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, call 850-717-9337 or the State Assistance Information Line at 800-342-3557. To email the governor, go online to www.flgov.com/email-the-governor/.

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