COVID-19 cases in Okeechobee County may peak soon


OKEECHOBEE – COVID-19 cases in Okeechobee “are up, quite a bit,” Bret Smith of the Florida Department of Health in Okeechobee County told Okeechobee County Commissioners at the Jan. 6 meeting.

For the period Dec. 31-Jan. 6, the new positivity rate in Okeechobee was 28.9%. The week of Dec. 10-16, the rate was 0.85%. He predicts the positivity number will decline again in a few weeks.

“This omicron variant that is attacking us like crazy right now is a very short-lived strain,” said Smith. “Three to five days, it’s over.”

“We’re coming to our peak,” Smith predicted. “I think we’re going to start seeing the drop off. If everything goes the way it has been in other nations like Africa, in two weeks we will be back down to 3%.”

Some testing sites are having staffing issues due to the pandemic, he added. “Call ahead first because some of them are sending staff home because they get covid as well,” he explained.

Smith said there were some problems with new covid cases at the longterm care facilities, mainly among staff. “I think we have gotten that under control now,” he explained. “Everybody there has had boosters.

“We’re trying to do testing on them as much as possible,” he explained.

There were no covid deaths in Okeechobee County in the past week, Smith said.

The schools are also dealing with staffing problems due to covid. Thirty-four Okeechobee County teachers were out this week due to testing positive or close contact with someone who tested positive.

Brian Melear, Raulerson Hospital CEO, said he was on a call with the Florida Hospital Association State Call on Jan. 5. He said the state had 6,623 covid hospitalizations on Wednesday.

“Were running about 1,000 a month ago,” he explained.  Raulerson Hospital currently has seven patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19.

“We’re fortunate to have the testing availability that we do,” said Melear. He said other areas of the state have experienced shortages in testing.

 “Monoclonal antibodies throughout the state with the delta variant was very effective,” he continued. Those monoclonal antibody products are now in short supply not only across Florida but across the country, he added. The monoclonal antibody products that were effective against the delta variant may not be effective for omicron, he added.

“We’re seeing this variant being more of an upper respiratory disease which is why we are seeing the mass spread,” he said. It spreads very easily.

The hospital is facing challenges are emergency room volume and staffing, Melear said. “I think we’re going to have another month or so with a pretty hard way to go,” he predicted. “We’ll do the best we can.”

His advice to the public: “Get vaccinated, get boostered, wear a mask, social distance, and wash your hands.”

Fire Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin said they had 10 employees test positive in the past two weeks. Currently five employees are out due to covid. He said they are using overtime as well as some of the exempt staff to fill the shifts.