COVID-19 rate in Okeechobee declining

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OKEECHOBEE – The COVID-19 positive rate has declined in Okeechobee County in the past two weeks, according to the report given by Tiffany Collins of the Okeechobee Health Department at the Oct. 15 Okeechobee County Commission meeting.

“We have been way down on our positivity rate,” she said. She explained the spike in positive cases last month was driven by an outbreak at the state prison, and the prison now has that under control. The average positivity rate for the past two week is 6.27%. The cumulative positive rate since testing began is 14.12%.

To date, Okeechobee County has 35 deaths related to COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health report.

Collins said flu season is starting and the health department is encouraging everyone to be vaccinated against the flu by the end of October.

“In Okeechobee County last year we had no deaths from flu,” said Collins. “We haven’t had a cause of death from flu since 2016.” She said in 2019, Okeechobee County had 15 deaths related to pneumonia.

About 11% of those who tested positive for COVD-19 in Okeechobee County have been hospitalized, Collins said.

More than 11,600 people have been tested, she said, but that includes some people testing multiple times. For example, nursing home staff are tested every two weeks. All of the negative tests count in the county’s total. Once a person tests positive, other tests for that individual are not counted in the county total.

Collins said it is still important for everyone to continue to observe the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations to prevent spread of the virus:
• Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly using soap and water.
• Use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol when you cannot wash you hands.
• Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
• Wear a cloth face covering when you will be within 6 feet of those not in your immediate household.
• Maintain a “social distance” of at least 6 feet from others who are not members of your household.
• Stay home if you are sick. Keep children home from school if they are sick.
• Do not touch your face without first washing your hands.

According to the CDC, cloth face masks are important because the COVID-19 virus is transmitted in the droplets of moisture that leave the mouth and nose when you talk, cough or sneeze. The cloth catches these droplets. Because many people who are contagious have no symptoms, the masks help protect others from exposure. Your mask protects others from you should you be contagious and not realize it. Their masks protect you should they be contagious and not realize it.

Collins said the COVID-19 vaccines are still in trials and they do not know when a vaccine may be available or which of the vaccines currently under study may be approved.

She said the health department offers testing for those with symptoms, close contacts of those with symptoms and first responders.

She said the state legislature has cut the FDOH’s COVID-19 funding by about 60%. Collins said they have funding for contact tracing through November.

All 10 of Okeechobee County’s public schools have experienced COVID-19 positive cases. So far, there have been 30 positives in the school system, Collins said. “We have had 208 students and 21 teachers who were identified as close contacts and had to stay home for the 14 days.” She said none of those became positive.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said she had receive some questions about the requirement for masks to be worn in personal services businesses such as salons. Commission Chair Terry Burroughs said the governor’s phase 3 order states if a customer asks them to wear a mask, they should adhere to the customer’s request.

Businesses can require masks. For larger chain stores this is usually a corporate policy. While governor’s phase 3 reopening plan allows restaurants to have indoor seating at 100% capacity, restaurant owners can continue to limit seating or offer “take out” service only if that is their choice.

According to FDOH, as of Oct. 14, Okeechobee County had 35 deaths related to COVID-19 including:
• Female, 65, positive test reported June 22;
• Male, 93, positive test reported June 26;
• Male 70, positive test reported June 26;
• Male 63, positive test reported July 4.
• Male, 60, positive test reported July 6;
• Male, 75, positive test reported July 8;
• Female, 79, positive test reported July 9;
• Male, 93, positive test reported, July 9;
• Female, 78, positive test reported July 9;
• Male, 60, positive test reported July 9;
• Male, 60, positive test reported July 10;
• Male, 64, positive test reported July 12;
• Female, 82, positive test reported July 12;
• Female, 83, positive test reported July 16;
• Female, 78, positive test reported July 17;
• Male, 63, positive test reported July 18;
• Male, 30, positive test reported July 27;
• Male, 91, positive test reported July 30;
• Female, 82, positive test reported Aug. 1;
• Female, 94, positive test reported Aug. 27;
• Male, 77, positive test reported Aug. 9;
• Female, 83, positive test reported Aug. 9;
• Female, 85, positive test reported Aug. 9;
• Male, 93, positive test reported Aug. 19.
• Male, 62, positive test reported Aug. 26;
• Female, 78, positive test reported Aug. 28.
• Male, 96, positive test reported Sept. 1;
• Female, 91, positive test reported Sept. 2;
• Male, 81, positive test reported Sept. 4;
• Male, 87, positive test reported Sept. 6;
• Female, 56, positive test reported Sept. 9;
• Male, 91, positive test reported Sept. 14;
• Male, 81, positive test reported Sept. 18;
• Male, 56, positive test reported Sept. 25.
• Male, 53, positive test reported Sept. 30.

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