Nearly 350 test positive for covid in Okeechobee this week


OKEECHOBEE- The Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners received an update on the COVID-19 pandemic at its Sept. 9 meeting.

Okeechobee County Florida Department of Health Interim Administrator Bret A. Smith and Raulerson Hospital CEO Brian Melear spoke to the board about the latest numbers from Okeechobee and how the community is faring in this latest surge of the virus which began in early August.

Bret A. Smith
Bret A. Smith

Smith reported to commissioners that Okeechobee had 343 positive COVID-19 cases this week. Twenty-nine of those cases were school age positives. Only eight of those 343 cases were vaccinated. And none of those eight vaccinated breakthrough cases needed any hospital care.

Since this latest surge began in August up until Sept. 9, Okeechobee has had 2,192 COVID-19 positives.

On Sept. 2, a free COVID-19 testing site was opened at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center. Smith estimates the testing site is administrating around 100-110 tests per day.

Testing at the Agri-Civic Center was closed on Sept. 10. According the information released by the Okeechobee County government, this was not a planned closure. The company running the Agri-Civic Center testing site, Curative, is making attempts to contact those that made an appointment for Sept. 10 to reschedule.

Raulerson Hospital CEO Brian Melear says that in the last seven days there have been 21 new admissions to the hospital that were covid positive.

Raulerson Hospital CEO Brian Melear speaks to the BOCC on Sept. 9.
Raulerson Hospital CEO Brian Melear speaks to the BOCC on Sept. 9.

“O2 (oxygen therapy) issues that I spoke about last time have stabilized with some outside state resources,” explained Melear. “ER volumes continue to be very high, both locally and across the state. Very challenging. Staffing shortages statewide and in our community are still a very real issue. And I expect us to still be dealing with that further as we continue to deal with covid.

“Death rates continue to go up even as you see some hospitalization rates go down.” continued Melear. “This is very traumatic to your healthcare system. Raulerson Hospital is continuing to deal with those challenges.”

Commissioner Terry Burroughs thanked Brian for his hospital’s work in this latest surge.

“I will say this,” said Burroughs, “you folks have done an excellent job. Given the circumstances that have been presented to you, the EMTs, and the deputies, you have done an outstanding job. I know it’s tough for you because you and I talk probably every other day.”

“I would continue to tell the public that if you want to help these people, think about the vaccination,” Burroughs concluded. “Each one of the commissioners up here have been vaccinated. If we don’t take this thing seriously, then we’re going to be in trouble. Some of my close friends have died. This is serious. And people need to clearly understand that you have to protect yourself.”