News from the Clewiston City Manager

By Randy Martin
Clewiston City Manager

CLEWISTON – Citizens, business owners and other interested parties:

As of this update, the city, county, state and nation remain in a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Much discussion among citizens, business owners, government officials and the media of late has evolved from focusing on preventing the spread of the virus to reopening our communities. While it is prudent that the community prepare for this transition in the coming days and weeks, it is vitally important that we collectively remain diligent in our individual efforts to control the spread of this virus by continuing to practice social distancing and adhering to the hygiene-related guidance recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that has helped to see improvement thus far in Florida’s statistics in terms of new case numbers being in a declining pattern in the state overall.

Locally, we need to recognize the fact that being rural in nature, Clewiston and the rest of Hendry County were much later than urban areas in seeing rising confirmed case numbers and that we logically should expect that the spread of the virus would likewise be behind trends in urban areas. To illustrate this point, Hendry County did not report its first confirmed case until March 29, while cases were on the rise elsewhere and had been for most of the month of March. While Hendry County saw no cases in the first month or so, the last month has been quite a different story as the latest Florida Department of Health (DOH) report now reflects 92 confirmed cases in the county. The trend is even more pronounced in the last two weeks, during which the county has seen the numbers increase by 61 cases, or a 66% increase in total cases. In the last week alone, the Hendry County total of confirmed cases has increased by 30.

Roughly two-thirds of the cases in the county are listed as being within the Clewiston zip code, which encompasses all of the city and significant geographical areas within eastern unincorporated Hendry County including specifically Harlem, Montura and Pioneer. DOH officials are reporting that 33 of the confirmed cases thus far in the county have been associated with the two nursing homes located within the county, with one in LaBelle and the other in Clewiston. Long-term care type facilities are recognized as being among the “hot spots” throughout the state and obviously are home to some of our most vulnerable citizens, but there have also been other “hot spots” contributing to the county case total. In particular, the county’s proximity to Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties continues to adversely influence Hendry County case totals. Specifically, the GEO detention facility located in South Bay has been a contributor locally as a number of cases are linked to Hendry County residents employed at that facility. The media report that this facility is among the two highest in the state in terms of numbers of COVID-19 cases.

This data and information indicates anything but a decline in confirmed cases of COVID-19 locally. Considering DOH reported numbers of pending tests awaiting results in the county, Hendry County likely has not reached its peak in confirmed cases. These things said, the city has continued to promote adherence to CDC guidelines and compliance with the governor’s stay-at-home orders and designations of essential businesses and activities, which were issued several weeks ago. Of course, things have continued to change at the state level, and again on May 4, the landscape was again altered regarding phase one of the governor’s plans to relax some restrictions in previous executive orders. Although these changes have received mixed reviews from several sources, I applaud the governor’s measured approach with gradual changes expected in the weeks ahead. The latest governor’s order, Executive Order 20-112 FAQs for Executive Order 20-112, will take effect Monday, which will allow some businesses to resume limited operations while requiring the implementation of CDC guidance in their operations.

Given these new guidelines, the city will continue to do its part in enforcing the requirements, but it is imperative that the business community take their role seriously if they are to convince customers and the general public that it is safe to venture out and patronize their businesses going forward. The results of a recent survey done by the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce overwhelmingly supported the notion that the public is not ready to see stay-at-home orders relaxed until they are convinced that health officials believe it is prudent and that safe conditions and practices exist in businesses and service providers. To this end, the DOH, Chambers of Commerce, local governments and other partners will be offering assistance in various forms to the business community and will continue to message the public on appropriate actions to fight the spread of the virus. Please do your part in the critical period that lies ahead, so that the phased reopening of our community and state can be maintained in the weeks ahead.

I also am pleased to report that the city commissioners endorsed, at their last virtual meeting on April 20, the adjustment of electric utility bills to lower the power cost adjustment for all city electric utility customers to help financially during the COVID-19 crisis. A press release April 29 gives the details of this adjustment that will be effective in the May 2020 bills for services rendered in April.

In closing, I again thank each of you for your continued support and interest in the City of Clewiston.

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