OKEECHOBEE — Bret Smith of the Florida Department of Health in Okeechobee County shared good news and bad news about COVID-19 at the Jan. 20 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.
The bad news: Okeechobee County’s new positivity rate for this week is 35.28%. Smith said they try to keep the new positivity rate under 10%.
The good news: “Some of the medical experts in Tallahassee have said we have reached the peak and are slowly on our way down.”
For the Jan. 14-20 period, 1,834 persons have been tested in Okeechobee County and 536 tested positive.
Smith said the health department is focusing on long term care facilities.
“We just issued about 2,000 rapid test kits to them,” he explained. ‘They are getting more from the state.”
He said Okeechobee Health Care Facility had six new positive cases among residents this week and six staff members who tested positive.
“It seems like staff is bringing it in to the residents,” said Smith. “That’s why we gave them the test kits.”
Grand Oaks had one positive resident this week, he added.
“Our main focus is to keep this out of the nursing homes and to keep this out of the 65 and older community,” he said.
While the primary focus is on the older population, the health department is still working with the schools, he continued.
Smith said the health department had to back down on covid case contact investigations because the number of cases is too large.
He said they have three staff members doing contact tracing and they had around 750 people they were contacting.
Because of the overwhelming numbers the health department are not able to do the contact tracing for the schools as they had in the past, he explained.
“We still let schools know about the positives but we aren’t able to do the contact tracing as rapidly as in the past,” he said. “We are doing everything we can for the schools.”
Smith said the monoclonal sites are opening up again. The closest one to Okeechobee is at the St. Lucie County Fairgrounds. He said that site may move as it is getting close to time for the St. Lucie County Fair.
Testing is still available Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center.
Commissioner Kelly Owens said sometimes they have to close due to staffing issues, but they reopen as soon as they can.
“It’s free. You stay in your vehicle. There does not seem to be long lines or long waits,” she said.
Smith said the Agri-Civic Center site can test up to 50 people an hour. Fully staffed they can test 500 people a day. They are averaging about 350 tests a day, he added.
He said they are going to do more testing at the health department.
“We have a new nurse coming from the CDC, paid by the CDC,” he said. That nurse will be here just to do testing.
He said when the Agri-Civic Center site has to close due to staffing problems, it is usually due to staffers testing positive for covid.
“They test their crew each day,” he said. “If someone tests positive, they’re out and they have to replace that person.”
“One day about four came back positive,” Smith said.
For free home tests, go online to COVIDtests.gov.