OKEECHOBEE – At their Jan. 14 meeting, Okeechobee County officials struggled with the desire to keep residents safe while using county facilities.
“Covid is very serious. We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves, our staff and the public,” said Commissioner David Hazellief.
“The focus is to keep this stuff from spreading,” said Commission Chair Terry Burroughs. He said in the past week more than 250 people in the county tested positive. “When we get all these people together, nobody is social distancing, no matter what we say.”
“The community and the general public has got to start taking this particular virus seriously,” said Burroughs. “I have had two of my fellow commissioners exposed to it. Fortunately they are recovering. It has made them believers.
“We need to emphasize the need to wear a mask, the need to do social distancing, the need to keep your hands away from your face and if you are sick, stay home,” said Burroughs. “We tell people not to have more than 10 people in a place, and then we have events that bring in 1,000 people ... does that make any sense?”
Burroughs said commissioners don’t wear masks at meetings because the meetings are recorded and it is difficult to hear the speakers clearly if they wear masks. He added they maintain distance while seated on the dais.
“I don’t want to live in a cage,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper. “No matter what you do, how careful you try to be, there are going to be a certain number of people who are going to get this.”
Burroughs said the county requirement that those inside a county building wear masks has to be enforced by those who rent the facilities. He said the governor’s executive order prevents the county from passing an enforceable mask ordinance.
The commissioners agreed to allow Fountain of Life Church to use an outdoor area in Kiwanis Park for a children’s program,
Carol McGurn, on behalf of the church, asked for fee waiver for an ongoing weekly character-building program at Kiwanis Park. The program uses interactive lessons through puppetry, drama and videos. She asked to use the open space near the tennis courts to provide weekly programs. She said they can require the children to wear masks. They have tarps for the children to sit on and they require the kids stay six feet apart. They will have hand sanitizer available, she added.
“One thing I think we neglect with covid is the effect it is having beyond the sickness,” she explained. Children are more vulnerable to abuse during the pandemic, she added.
Hazellief said he is surprised there is a fee to use Kiwanis Park.
Denise Whitehead, Community Services Director, said Kiwanis Park does rent out the pavilion and the open space. She said if they did not have a system to reserve the space, they would be overrun with people wanting to use the area.
“This is a recurring program,” she said. “They would like to have a trailer out there and hang a banner.”