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Second case of COVID-19 confirmed in the county

SEBRING – Coming on the heels of Highlands County’s first case of confirmed coronavirus on Sunday, the county now has two confirmed cases of COVID-19. The Florida Department of Health updated its numbers with an update early Monday.

What we know is the second person is a 77-year-old woman. According to Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard run by the FDOH, the woman does not appear to be in the hospital and it is unknown at this time whether her case is travel related.

The woman whose positive test was confirmed Sunday is being treated in the hospital. It has been reported that the 78-year-old woman did not travel outside the country.

As of Monday, FDOH dashboard stated there were 18 tests in Highlands County with 12 negative results, two positive results and four results are still pending.

However, Highlands County Officials told the Highlands News-Sun, the number of people who have been tested is much higher than the dashboard is showing.

Highlands County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski said she was not at liberty to say how many tests have been given.

In total, there are 18 “people under investigation.” They range from the ages of 1 to 79 years of age and the average age is 47.

The state numbers as of 6 p.m. Monday were:

• Total cases – 1,227

• Florida residents – 1,147

• Deaths – 18

• There have been 13,965 tests given with 11,637 of those having negative test results and another 1,101 still pending.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Scott Dressel asked residents not to call the dispatch center for questions on COVID-19. Dressel said people are calling to ask dispatch if their church is open for service and other non-essential calls.

“Dispatch is not the place for questions about the coronavirus,” he said. “If they have questions about a certain place they need to call the place and ask if they are open.”

No quarantine orders have been issued nor curfew announced. However, health officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local governing bodies still want the public to practice social distancing, washing hands for 20 seconds (at least) with soap and avoiding gatherings where 10 or more people will congregate. They are telling everyone to stay home if possible.

In a press conference Monday at The Villages, Governor Ron DeSantis said there has been little in community spreading. DeSantis said there is not a need for a mandate to “stay home” with senior citizens because he said they would do the right thing. He did scold other groups that have balked about the closures and ignoring social distancing. He said if you avoid contact with people who have the virus, there is a good chance of avoidance. He said a stay-at-home order could cause hardship for many.

The state COVID-19 24/7 question line is 866-779-6121.

Shepherd's Pantry gets challenged in a good way

SEBRING — The gloves have come off and the gauntlet has been thrown, Shepherd’s Pantry at Emmanuel United Church of Christ has been given a challenge. Bolton Winpenny heard about the food ministry at the church and admired the way the ministry helped the community.

Bolton said every time someone donated to the pantry (not the church), he would donate $10 in their name to the pantry. The challenge is good until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 25.

“I think people want to know where their money is going when they donate it,” Winpenny said. “I know where this is going, it’s helping my neighbors.”

Winpenny is concerned for his fellow man with businesses closing from the coronavirus crisis and people being laid off. So much so, that he called while on vacation in Georgia to share the challenge with his friend Rev. George Miller, pastor of EUCC.

Miller is thrilled with the challenge and hopes to get enough people to donate to cash in on every cent of the $2,000.

“This is a natural personality trait of Bolton’s,” Miller said. “I have known Bolton for years, he uses his resources to create community.”

Miller said he was amazed that people in the community who do not attend church, know about Shepherd’s Pantry and its mission.

“One of the gifts of our pantry is humanity,” Miller said. “We make sure we treat everyone with the utmost humanity. The only things that are different from us and them is the circumstances. We can’t physically touch anyone right now but we can still be the hands and feet of Jesus. We can feed people and reach out to them.”

EUCC Service Minister Steve Wills is currently heading up the pantry. He said the pantry has grown considerably through the years. The pantry opened in April 2014, and fed one family. Last week, the pantry fed over 160 families.

Shepherd’s Pantry is open once a month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the third Monday of the month.

“Shepherd’s Pantry is a wonderful ministry,” Wills said. “We help people and offer them food, fellowship and relaxation. We offer them a drink or snack while they are there.”

Wills explained there was some government paperwork to do, then, there are two ways to get food. Individuals can pick up pre-packaged items with about 18 food and hygiene items or they can go around shopping with a church member to pick out their own items. Wills said the volunteers do everything to preserve the dignity of the people who take part of the pantry.

Mark checks Sheppard’s Pantry/Bolton and mail to 3115 Hope St., Sebring, FL 33875.

School Board prepares for virtual meetings

SEBRING — It will be virtual meetings for the School Board of Highlands County during the coronavirus outbreak.

The members of the School Board went through a training session at the District Office on Thursday afternoon on the technical procedures to meet virtually.

A week ago, the Florida Department of Education and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued many directives including postponing all district school board and state college board of trustees meetings through June 30, 2020 except for emergency purposes, which must be convened virtually or telephonically.

Part of the issue is the guideline to limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people.

School Board Chair Donna Howerton said if she had a School Board meeting there would be five board members, the superintendent, School Board secretary and attorney and a couple of members of the press and there would be 10 present.

With the streamlined arrangement the issue is how to accept public comment, she said.

Howerton said she spoke to State Board of Education Chair Andy Tuck about it and she believes the state is trying to alleviate large groups, but the School Board of Highlands County has to continue to meet to transact business.

Howerton said Tuck explained that the intent was not to stop school board meetings, but to suspend public meetings.

School Board Attorney John McClure said, “I believe by conducting virtual meetings the concern of the contagiousness of the Covid-19 virus is less likely obviously if it were face-to-face. I think by conducting virtual meetings the limitations of what you can do would be eased.”

At the training session in the Garland Boggus Board Room, McClure said for their meetings, the School Board would convene in the boardroom and there would be monitor/televised feed of the meeting in another room for the public. Those who wish to comment could request to go in one-by-one to address the board.

Howerton said, “It is just doing everything within the Sunshine Law and being legal there, but we can’t just shut down until June.”

There are some expenditures that need to be “pulled in” right now so the district can save its money, such as the bid for the renovation of a baseball field that could cost $200,000, she said. “Do we need to re-sod a baseball field right now?”

So there are issues the School Board needs to talk about as a group, Howerton said.

Office closed to public

With a focus on the health and safety of our customers and our staff, the Highlands News-Sun will temporarily close its office to the public as of today. Staff will be on hand to handle business. To speak to a staff member, please call 863-385-6155.

LP woman dies in Sunday wreck

SEBRING –Florida Highway Patrol has released the details of a single car wreck that ended in a fatality just after 5:30 p.m. Sunday. According to the press release, Rebecca Lee Barrett, 45, of Lake Placid, was killed and her next of kin has been notified.

The report states Barrett was driving southbound on U.S. 27 in the outside lane in a 2003 Mitsubishi Montero. For “unknown reasons” she left the roadway and went onto the west grassy shoulder. Barrett over-corrected and her car began to spin.

The car then entered the paved section of a median where the car “overturned several times.” Barrett was thrown from the vehicle and came to a final rest in the grassy portion of the median. The Montero ended upright with its front end facing northwest.

The report stated Barrett did not have a seat belt on and it was unknown whether there was alcohol as a contributing factor.

According to unofficial records kept at the Highlands News-Sun, there have been eight deaths on Highlands County roads since the beginning of the new year.