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AP Council discusses law enforcement options

AVON PARK — At a special meeting Thursday, the Avon Park City Council discussed law enforcement options after Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman informed the city on Nov. 9 it would have to pay significantly more to the Sheriff’s Office.

Blackman informed the City Council that due to his department’s costs for law enforcement services, the city’s annual payment to the Sheriff’s Office would increase in one year from about $1.4 million to $2.5 million per year.

The council decided to have the city attorney seek a decision from the State’s Attorney Office relating to the comments made by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. The key topic being the claim that Avon Park would loose its city charter if it fails to contract with the Sheriff’s Office or raise its own police department.

In addition, the city manager will reach out to the Sheriff’s Office to get a better understanding of possible paths to a new agreement.

Also, council will likely seek a feasibility study to know what costs would be associated with reestablishing an Avon Park Police Department, Anderson said. Early estimates, he said, seem to be far higher than the $2.55 million annual payment requested by the Sheriff’s Office, which would have an even greater tax consequence.

“There isn’t much time to make a move either way so we need to explore all avenues hastily,” he said. Many citizens and business owners have reached out and made it clear that they want law enforcement more now than ever in these uncertain times.

“We will work quickly to research the information and choose a path by hopefully late January.”

Councilwoman Maria Sutherland said there are three “first thing topics” that need to be addressed:

• Does the sheriff even want to negotiate a new contract?

• If the city pursues its own police department and doesn’t have it 100% set up within the year, then what plan/level of service will the sheriff provide to the residents and businesses of the city? This takes into account the city residents already pay the same county taxes that non-city residents pay for law enforcement, she said.

• Council directed the city attorney to create a memorandum with questions for the Florida Attorney General’s Office for an opinion regarding the sheriff’s comments that if the city did not bring back its police department or did not have a contract with the Sheriff’s Office, then Avon Park would lose its charter and the city would be “absorbed” by the county.

Thanksgiving may look different this year

SEBRING — It was bound to happen when the holidays rolled around. COVID-19 has forced the public to consider how we are spending Thanksgiving. There has been an “uptick in local cases,” said Dr. Victoria Hutto Selley, emergency room director of AdventHealth Lake Placid, Sebring and Wauchula.

Many states have either been put on lockdown again or the governors have placed restrictions on holiday gatherings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given guidelines on staying as safe from infection as possible.

“Everyone is craving fellowship, but we have to do it in a smart way,” Hutto Selley said.

The CDC guidelines state outdoor venues pose less risk than indoor gatherings, especially where ventilation is poor.

“What a wonderful time to choose an outdoor venue,” Hutto Selley said. “This is Florida, we have a lot of parks.”

Whichever venue you attend, the CDC and Hutto Selley say to wear masks all the time. The doctor practices what she preaches and said her family wears them.

“We wear them when we are out and about,” she said. She said she didn’t want anyone in her family to be responsible for getting others sick if they had been exposed.

Last week, the CDC announced masks protect the wearer from COVID-19.

While wearing a mask is a good idea, so is staying six feet apart from others, especially those who do not live in the same household.

The CDC considers a household as those people who live in the same household unit, while college students who are returning home for the holidays are considered a different household.

Washing hands for 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer when offered is another guideline put forth by the CDC.

When hosting a gathering, plan on using to-go containers and disposable utensils to limit contact. Open windows to increase ventilation or have the dinner outside and limit the number of guests. Clean high-touch surfaces and restrooms with disinfectant cleaner.

When attending a community event, Hutto Selley said to avoid contact with social distancing, wear a mask and limit the time you are in an enclosed space. While many have suggested to limit time at the gatherings, Hutto Selley said there is no magical number.

“Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Being within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires a 14-day quarantine,” the CDC site states.

This year looks very different than our normal Thanksgiving. The CDC says there are people who should not go to public or private parties: those who have COVID-19, have symptoms, are waiting on test results, or have been exposed to someone who has had the virus in the past 14 days. People at risk of severe illness may want to pass on the turkey this year.

FaceTime and other apps are a good alternative to Thanksgiving gatherings.

“We have to hold vigilante,” Hutto Selley said.

To view the full CDC guidelines, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.

Thanksgiving edition

In honor of Thanksgiving, the Highlands News-Sun will be printed on Thanksgiving Day.

We hope your Thanksgiving is a peaceful and wonderful time with family and friends.

COVID cases way up, positivity down slightly

SEBRING — The Florida Department of Health’s Friday report, showed Highlands County with a major increase in positive coronavirus cases. At 76 cases, possibly the highest one day uptick ever. On Nov. 14th the increase was 74. The total of cases is now 3,447 which is divided by 3,425 residents and 22 non-residents. The daily median age was 58 on Friday with a median age of 51.

The increase in cases is reflected from the increase in tests processed-575. The good news is the positivity rate is 11.67%, which is down from 13.57% on Thursday. Unfortunately, there were four deaths reported on Friday, bringing the total for Highlands to 137.

At least two cases came from a long-term care facility as there were 436 cases on Thursday and Friday’s report listed 438. Corrections remained the same with 69 cases. Hospitalizations went up by two cases; as of Friday at 2:52 p.m. there were 64 people hospitalized with the primary diagnosis of COVID-19. The Agency for Health Care Administration showed the ICU bed census as 25 with two beds (7.41%) available. ACHA show’s the county’s bed census as 236 with 24 beds available.

Florida now has a total of 923,418 cases with 910,065 residents and 13,353 non-residents. Friday’s new cases increased by 8,884 infections. Those numbers come from 116,924 tests processed the day prior. There were 108,040 negative tests. The overall average positivity rate is 7.6%.

There have been triple and quadruple digit jumps in new cases. They are: Bay – 102, Brevard – 183, Broward – 948, Collier – 159, Dade – 2,007, Duval – 255, Escambia – 134, Hillsborough – 462, Lee – 294, Leon – 115, Manatee – 159, Marion – 158, Okaloosa – 131, Orange — 551, Osceola – 193, Palm Beach – 499, Pasco – 209, Pinellas – 289, Polk – 188, Sarasota — 213, Seminole – 111 and Volusia – 127. Only Jefferson County did not have any increases.

The numbers in the United States remained sobering. According to Johns Hopkins, the U.S. saw an increase of 187,833 cases, setting yet another record for new cases in a day.

“We are very much in the middle of this pandemic,” said Beth Blauer, executive director at Johns Hopkins University Centers for Civic Impact. “Cases are rising everywhere. We are seeing the pandemic hit hard in rural America.”

There were a total of 11.8 million cases as of 3 p.m. Friday and the U.S. should eclipse the 12 million mark over the weekend.

There were 2,015 new deaths recorded and the total death count in the U.S. is 253,458.

“We hit that very sobering high of total deaths of 250,000 this week,” Blauer said.

Blauer did say the death data isn’t tracking as high as the total cases, as we’re seeing a younger population catch the virus and they have shown a better ability to shake off the effects of COVID-19 better than the older population.

Blauer did say the county’s positivity rate was a bit of a concern, as it’s tracking the wrong way.

“We kind of enjoyed a period of time towards the end of the summer, early fall, where we were closer to that 5% range the World Health Organization recommends, but the data is now showing we are at the 10% range, so double where the WHO recommended line is.”

The global virus count increased more than a half-million, and there have now been 57.25 million cases. India surpassed the 9 million mark with 45,822 new cases and with 35,918 new cases, Brazil is about to reach the 6 million-case mark.

There were more than 9,500 deaths globally and the total death toll is now 1,366,278.