UPDATED: Okeechobee County Health Care Facility staff and residents tested for COVID-19

OKEECHOBEE — All patients and staff members at Okeechobee Health Care Facility will be tested for COVID-19. The testing started Friday and will continue Saturday.

OHCF spokeswoman Jennifer Williamson reported Friday morning that the facility had been advised Gov. DeSantis was sending a team and that the Department of Health would also send nurses to assist.

By Friday afternoon testing was underway.

“The main person in charge of testing the facility from the Governor’s office arrived today ahead of the team,” said Ms. Williamson Friday afternoon.  “He trained our nurses on how to administer the test, and we began testing.  The testing will continue into tomorrow until all residents and staff are tested.”

Ms. Williamson said they are still waiting on the latest test of the staff member who tested positive, making her the eighth in Okeechobee County to test positive for the virus. (As of Friday afternoon, the county had 9 positive cases according to the Florida Department of Health website.)

According to Tiffany Collins, of the Okeechobee Health Department, if a health care worker tests positive for COVID-19, when they no longer have symptoms, they must test negative twice before being allowed to return to work. The negative tests are needed to make sure the virus has left that person’s body.

According to Ms. Williamson, the OHCF staff member who tested positive no longer has symptoms and is eager to return to work. She has tested negative once and is awaiting the results of the additional test to be cleared for work.

When they first learned the staff member was COVID-19 positive, OHCF secured the unit where the positive staff member was working. Only staff assigned to that unit are permitted entrance.

All residents on that unit will be quarantined for 14 days.

“We will assess the residents throughout the day and night for any symptoms related to COVID-19 and take appropriate steps should any such symptoms present,” Ms. Williamson explained.

“All staff will be screened upon presentation for work as well as throughout the workday for symptoms. All staff are wearing full PPEs (personal protective equipment) as directed by the CDC,” she explained.

At the Thursday, April 23, Okeechobee County Commission meeting, Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said he had 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.

Ms. Collins said she had also requested for the Florida National Guard to come in and test all of the staff and all of the residents.

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