County declares state of emergency
By Katrina Elsken
Lake Okeechobee News
OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners declared a Local State of Emergency (LSE) at their March 18 meeting.
The LSE means the county will eligible for reimbursement by federal and state funding, should that become available, for expenses related to the management of the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
County Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin said the county is gearing up to fit-test first responders including fire/rescue, the sheriff’s office, city police and the city fire department to make sure first responders have masks.
Okeechobee County’s emergency call center is staffed and ready to accept calls. The phone number is 863-763-3536. The call center will be located at the Okeechobee County Public Library, and staffed by library personnel. The library is closed to the public due to the pandemic.
The county will institute a caller screening process to be used by 911 dispatchers, so they can alert first responders in advance if the person may have been exposed to COVID-19.
This screening process will not delay dispatching the call, said Chief Franklin.
Fire/rescue has incorporated a screening process in place in coordination with Raulerson Hospital.
Mitch Smeykal, the county’s emergency operations center chief, said hospitals have been asked to cancel elective procedures.
The governor’s emergency unemployment insurance program has been activated, he added.
Florida has four, 250-bed portable hospitals coming from the federal government.
He said 51 counties have declared a Local State of Emergency.
Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee County Health Department said 589 members of the Florida National Guard have been placed on active duty.
They are going to support Florida Department of Health drive-thru screening locations when they open.
She said the governor has requested from the federal government sufficient kits to test 500,000 people.
Currently the only test collection sites in Okeechobee County are the county health department and Rauerson Hospital.
She said anyone who believes they meet the criteria to be tested should contact their health care providers.
“Do not just show up to the ER if you are not ill enough to need ER services,” she cautioned.
The American Dental Association has asked all dental providers to postpone all elective procedures for next three weeks, and treat only urgent cases.
The county commission will meet March 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 for daily reports on the COVID-19 virus situation, at 4 p.m. In order to minimize the number of people gathered in one place, county staffers will be assigned times for their reports. The public is encouraged to watch the meeting online.