CLEWISTON — City Commissioner Kristine Petersen revealed that she had tested positive for COVID-19 during the regular Clewiston City Commission meeting, conducted virtually on May 18. She divulged the information with the hope of helping citizens understand the impacts of following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state guidelines for preventing the spread of coronavirus.
Commissioner Petersen reported that she had been asymptomatic and unaware that she had been infected, until an antibody test was administered through her health care provider. The test showed that she was likely infected 30 days before the test results were received. She commented that she was extremely thankful she had followed the rules as she didn’t know she was positive, and could have spread the virus to the public if she hadn’t been taking the proper precautions of wearing a mask in public, social distancing and frequent hand washing.
Commissioner Petersen urges everyone to “please consider testing and please wear your masks in public because you just don’t know.”
City Manager Randy Martin reported that Hendry County had 222 confirmed cases. He said the numbers had grown significantly in recent weeks. He commented that the vast majority have been in the Clewiston ZIP code; the number of hospitalized patients was up to 38, with five areas of outbreaks identified. Two of the clusters have been the two nursing homes in the county; followed by the detention facility in South Bay; as well as two private commercial businesses that have also contributed to the overall numbers significantly.
Mr. Martin reported that two-thirds of the cases are associated with those five clusters. He went on to report that Palm Beach County, the areas most immediate to Clewiston, which are Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee, have experienced similar growth in numbers. Okeechobee County, although with much lower numbers, has also seen the numbers increase at a much faster pace in the past week. Mr. Martin also reported that there have been 12 people who have died from COVID-19 in Hendry County.
Commissioner Julio Rodriguez urged the public to wear masks when out shopping or conducting business in the community. “We need to understand it is not over yet. We have a long way to go,” he said.
There was some discussion regarding the current approach to city-wide restrictions, and Mr. Martin reported that they will continue to be very conservative. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still restricted, and all citizens are encouraged to comply with social distancing recommendations, to wear facial coverings in public, to wash hands frequently and to stay vigilant against the spread of the virus during this time. Mr. Martin said he couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of following CDC and state start guidelines, due to the significant outbreak that is occurring.
Mr. Martin said open COVID-19 testing is offered in Clewiston and LaBelle two days a week. He said citizens must first make an appointment, but that anyone can be tested for free, and no recommendation is needed from a doctor. He said that during the first few days of open testing, over 100 test samples were taken. Overall testing has been ramping up, and between 1,200 and 1,300 total tests have been administered in the county. The discussion turned to the subject of needing to conduct more testing, as the percentage of positive tests in the county is 18%, which is over 10 points higher than the state average. More testing would hopefully bring this number down.
In other business, the city commissioners spoke about the vacant building ordinance needing attention, as several buildings are deteriorating. The commissioners agreed that this issue needs to be addressed in a timely manner, especially before the review and discussion of the budget becomes a priority.
Mr. Martin also mentioned that all affected property owners are soon expected to receive, or may have already have received, a letter from FEMA regarding how the changes to the Herbert Hoover Dike and its supporting structures has affected their flood insurance status. He also recommended that if anyone would like more information regarding this, new maps and information will soon be posted online.
He also mentioned that United States Sugar Corporation would like to display some banners commemorating the graduating Class of 2020.
Mr. Martin added that if this year’s Fourth of July fireworks are canceled in timely manner, no loss of funding will occur and funding for this year could be rolled over to next year.
Commissioner Peterson mentioned she had spoken with the chamber about the possibility of a drive-in movie theater event, at the John Boy Auditorium. She asked the recreation department to consider helping with this project.
Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson said the county commission used the John Boy Auditorium for their last meeting, and that he would like to hold their next meeting the same way. The auditorium allows enough space for social distancing. The recommendation, from Mayor Mali Gardner, was to wait to see a 14-day period of diminished positive testing, which is opposite from the current data being received. Mayor Gardner said that she would consider it if the cases were on the decline, but that she will be basing her decisions on the data.
A Memorial Day Ceremony will conducted by video, through a partnership of the city and chamber. This video will be posted on both the city and chamber websites at 9 a.m. on Memorial Day.