First responders will be warned of any COVID-19 cases

OKEECHOBEE – If first responders are sent to an address where a person who has COVID-19 or whose COVID-19 test is pending, will they be warned? That was the question Okeechobee County Commissioner David Hazellief had for Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee County Health Department at the commission’s Monday, March 30 meeting.

Ms. Collins assured him that while the names of individuals who are tested for COVID-19 are protected, the addresses are put into the 9-1-1 computer so the dispatchers can warn first responders if there is a confirmed case or a test pending for someone at that address.

In addition, the 9-1-1 operators are screening callers with questions so they can alert first responders in advance of conditions at the residence in regard to anyone present who might have symptoms of COVID-19.

First responders have been advised to take universal precautions when answering all calls, she added.

Mitch Smeykal of the Okeechobee County Emergency Operations Center said they are still having difficulty obtaining the supplies they need. He said the county requested surgical masks from the state to put on all transport patients, but so far the state has not met that need.

Ms. Collins said as of the Monday report, Okeechobee County has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, but all of the surrounding counties do have confirmed cases. She said more testing is being conducted now, since commercial labs are now testing as well as the state labs. She said commercial labs are required to report all test results – positive and negative – to Florida Department of Health.

Ms. Collins said the governor’s office has advised Florida residents that testing is free. Anyone who charges for a COVID-19 test should be referred to the State Attorney General’s Office.

The United States now leads the world in number of confirmed cases for any country, she said.

Public Safety Officer Ralph Franklin assured citizens “we are continuing with our planning.” He said commodities are still flowing and grocery store deliveries are still happening. The supply chain is unbroken, he said.

Anyone with questions can call the county’s COVID-19 information line at 863-763-3536. He said the line is answered by the county library staff, who were tasked with that duty when the library was closed. He said they are averaging about 25 calls a day, with about half of the calls about library business.

The next Okeechobee County Commission briefing will be on Thursday at 4 p.m.

County administrator Robbie Chartier said county facility rentals are canceled through March. “I believe it will be a good idea to cancel facility rentals through April,” she added.

Due to concerns about the virus, the meeting was a virtual one with county commissioners, the county administrator and county staffers each signed in on their own computers.

The public can watch the meetings online at

According to the Florida Department of Health website, as of the last Monday update, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Okeechobee County. Glades and Hendry counties each have three confirmed cases. Palm Beach County has 463 confirmed cases.

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