OKEECHOBEE — As of Friday afternoon, Okeechobee County had two confirmed cases of COVID-19: a 41-year-old man who is self-isolating in Tampa and a 33-year-old woman who is self-isolating at home in Okeechobee.
At a Friday afternoon press conference, Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee County Health Department said the health department is tracking these individuals’ recent histories to determine whether others they were in contact with should be tested. She said neither positive case was travel-related.
Ms. Collins said the health departments stay in contact with each other to make sure 911 systems know the home addresses of those who have tested positive, or their current locations if they have chosen to shelter in place at a vacation home or somewhere else. This way they can alert first responders if they are called to a residence where someone is known to be COVID-19 positive.
Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin, who is also the county’s public safety officer, said when anyone calls 911, the operators will ask screening questions related to COVID-19 so they can keep the first responders updated. He said this will not delay sending help because while they are asking the screening questions, they are simultaneously dispatching first responders.
As of Friday afternoon, 75 Okeechobee County residents had been tested for COVID-19, with 71 negative and two pending results. Ms. Collins said that total does not include the results of tests conducted by commercial labs that have not yet been reported to the Florida Department of Health. Prior to the past week, tests were only collected in Okeechobee County at the Okeechobee Health Department and Raulerson Hospital. Those tests were sent to the FDOH lab in Miami. On March 30, testing started in commercial labs. The commercial lab tests through Lab Corps and Quest may take seven to 14 days for results. The hospital is using a lab that provides tests in eight to 10 hours.
To slow transmission of the virus, Okeechobee County residents are encouraged to stay home, and to avoid crowds if they should venture out.
“My officers will be out enforcing the governor’s executive order, especially relating to congregations of 10 or more people,” said Sheriff Noel Stephen. The sheriff’s office is working with the Okeechobee Police Department so they are enforcing the same restrictions in the county and in the city limits. Gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer people and everyone should stay 6 feet apart.
The sheriff said the 10-person limit includes churches.
“That’s not the devil doing his work,” he said. The rules are designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which is transmitted from person to person.
The entire press conference can be viewed on the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office page on Facebook.