Outbreak at state prison contributes to high COVID-19 rate in Okeechobee County


OKEECHOBE — Okeechobee County currently has the highest COVID-19 positive rate in the state, in part due to an outbreak at the state correctional facility, Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee Health Department told the Okeechobee County commissioners at their special meeting on Oct. 1

She said the state prison has been testing every day and getting a lot of positives.

“The concern the Department of Health has, is we can say they are in an isolated situation, but they have staff going into the facility and staff coming out and possibly bringing it back to their families,” she said.

“They feel like they are turning a corner,” she said. Some inmates are ending their infection period and being released from isolation.

She said Okeechobee County also has outbreaks at a long-term care facility and at a daycare.
Earlier in the week, Okeechobee County’s positive rate was about 16%, she said. “It has come down a little bit since Monday,” she said. “It’s at 15.4%.”

“A large part is the number we are testing, but also the outbreaks,” she said.

She said the health department offered asymptomatic testing for anyone who wanted to be tested last week, and only 27 people showed up.

Large households are of special concern, she explained. “We have seen many large households that when one person becomes positive, they all become positive.” She said by the time the first family member to contract the virus has symptoms, the rest of the family has already been exposed.

It is more important than ever for people in Okeechobee County to follow the CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, she continued.

Those guidelines include:
• Wear a mask or cloth face covering in public, especially in any building in which you cannot maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others at all times. The virus is most commonly spread in the droplets of moisture that leave your mouth and nose when you talk, cough or breathe. The cloth mask catches those droplets so they do not infect others. Many of those who are COVID-19 have no symptoms and do not know they are infected — but they can spread the virus.
• Maintain at least 6 feet of social distance from those who are not members of your household.
• Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water.
• Use hand sanitizer if you cannot wash your hands.
• Avoid crowds, especially if you have underlying health conditions that make you high-risk for the virus.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze.

Collins said the health department urges Floridians to get their flu shots now. “Reducing illness and hospitalizations from the flu keeps everyone safer,” she said.

She also encouraged the public to keep up with their regular doctor visits and health screenings.

The Okeechobee County schools are doing a great job with masking, distancing and disinfection, she continued. “We ask that parents screen their child every day so they don’t send their child to school sick,” she said.

bocc, covid-19