A1 A1
Florida breaks record again with 9,585 new COVID-19 cases

SEBRING — Just one day after burying its previous four-digit single-day coronavirus case increases, Florida has blown by that record, again, with an almost five-digit increase.

Added to that, cases worldwide topped 10 million by 51 cases on Saturday, with a global death toll approaching half a million at 498,952.

Florida added 9,585 cases from Friday to Saturday, for a total of 132,545 cases, up from Friday’s case total of 122,960, with a total of 3,489 deaths statewide, up from Friday’s toll of 3,464.

Only 2,453 of Florida’s cases are non-residents. All the rest live here.

Highlands County, according to the Florida Department of Health, saw an 89-person jump from 284 cases to now have 373 total cases, three of them non-residents, for a total positive-case rate of 4.7% for all of those tested.

The positive rate for test results that came in Friday was 11.2% out of 801 tests performed.

The county has seen 57 hospitalizations, or 15% of all cases, and 11 deaths, just 3% of cases.

County officials are disputing the 89-case one-day jump, according to posts from the county’s social media.

“We have been working with the Department of Health because some of those cases are not Highlands County cases,” the post stated. “However, although we do not have the exact number, we do know that Highlands County did hit a record new high of positive cases today.”

Gloria Rybinski, public information officer, said it is more like a range of 25-30 new cases, based on information she’s received.

County officials hope some of Saturday’s Highlands cases will get moved to other counties on Sunday. County officials are looking at that date, Rybinski said, based on the fact that there has been no word of a pending special update to the Health Department’s online COVID-19 dashboard.

Residents have sent letters to the county asking for a local mandate to wear face masks, but no special meetings have been called as of yet, Rybinski said.

County officials have asked residents to please follow CDC guidelines of wearing a cloth face covering, practicing physical distancing in public and wash hands often.

The Center for Disease Control has added three new symptoms of COVID-19: Congestion or runny nose, nausea and diarrhea.

Halsey Beshears, secretary of the state’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation, made a surprise announcement via Twitter on Friday that effective that day, consumption of alcohol at bars statewide was suspended. Since then, officials in some coastal communities have instituted mandatory face covering ordinances.

In other places, including Miami-Dade County, which saw a four-digit jump of 1,366 cases to 31,562 total, with 947 deaths, officials have announced that beaches would be closed for the July 4 weekend.

Hillsborough County also had a four-digit jump of 1,112 cases overnight, raising the running total to 9,130 cases and 132 deaths. There is no word yet on their beaches for next weekend.

Highlands County’s first positive case was reported on March 21.

The total number of tests administered in Highlands County to date is 7,961 with 7,582 negative tests results. Seven are still awaiting results.

Of the 373 positive cases reported Saturday for Highlands County, 370 would be residents versus three non-residents. The case numbers include 204 male and 165 females, ranging from ages 0 to 91, with a median age of 44.

Florida, meanwhile, has had quadruple digit increases for 24 consecutive days, starting June 3. Of the statewide cases, 2,453 are non-Florida residents. The state saw 25 additional deaths between Friday and Saturday.

The Health Department has released details of ethnicity and race regarding the positive cases in each of the state’s 67 counties.

Highlands County’s cases by ethnicity are 108 Hispanic, 172 non-Hispanic and 110 unknown/no data. The cases by race are 186 white, 56 black, 48 other and 80 unknown/no data.

Several residents commute to surrounding counties. Just to the north, in Polk County, where there is a higher population, the total reached 3,182 positive cases with 459 hospitalizations and 92 deaths. Polk has also administered 42,853 tests, of which 39,653 have been negative.

DeSoto (574) and Hardee (403) counties have surpassed Highlands County in positive cases while Highlands still has more cases than Glades (158) and Okeechobee (333). Okeechobee still has no deaths, Hardee has had three; DeSoto County has had 10 deaths and Glades still has only had one.

There are many variables that could affect the numbers such as population and testing availability.

Seventeen counties saw triple digit increases overnight: Brevard had 250, Broward had 726, Collier had 188, Duval had 677, Lake had 123, Lee had 199, Manatee 274, Orange had 989, Osceola had 164, Palm Beach had 430, Pasco had 304, Pinellas had 614, Polk had 402, Seminole had 236, St. Lucie had 135 and Volusia had 140.

Testing for the virus can be done at the Highlands County Health Department on Mondays and Fridays for those who are showing symptoms. Call 863-382-7260 to make an appointment. Testing is also being done at Central Florida Health Department, but again, appointments are required.

For more information on COVID-19, visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

In Highlands County, call 863-402-6800 or text hccovid to 888777.

What goes in, stays out of the recycling bin, and why

SEBRING — Are you ready to start recycling again? The service returns starting Monday.

Anyone still using their green carts as overflow for garbage will need to stop that, hose them out, and have them on the curb — filled with recyclables — before 7 a.m. on their scheduled collection day.

County officials want residents to do more to help make sure that recyclables picked up from the curb don’t end up in the landfill from contaminated loads.

County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. said residents can have the biggest effect in bringing down the county’s 40% contamination rate down to something a little more workable: 20% at least, although 10% or less would be ideal.

That said, have you rinsed out the recyclables?

Have you flattened your boxes, bottles and cans to make sure the lid of the bin will shut?

Have you rinsed all the garbage residue from the last two months out of your recycling bin, since you were told to use it for overflow garbage during the shutdown?

The right way to recycle, Howerton said, is to just recycle clean plastic bottles and plastic jars, steel and aluminum cans, and flattened cardboard.

It’s important to keep food out of the recycling stream and not to try to recycle loose plastic bags or to try to bag-up recyclables.

Highlands County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski said plastic bags foul sorting equipment, as does paper when it gets wet.

Napkins and paper towels especially are a problem, but any paper can also clog up equipment.

“It’s no good to us,” Rybinski said.

When asked about composting, Howerton, who also serves as solid waste director, said that certainly could be a great option. Using paper as packing material for shipping or storing items may be another.

“The newspapers themselves were not an issue,” Howerton said about one commonly-gathered paper product, “but the problem is that so many other non-recyclable items were being lumped into that same category. Items like books. Books and other bound paper items are not recyclable both because of the paper and the binder.”

Howerton has a list of items that are and are not recyclable, at least under the county’s contract with Waste Connections LLC and the current market for materials.


To be recyclable, all items must be free of debris and residue — thoroughly washed and cleaned — and to keep loads clean, no unaccepted items can be in the bins.

- Steel cans

- Aluminum cans

- Plastic bottles — Caps may be left on, as with soda bottles and milk jugs, and cleaning supply bottles are OK, as long as you remove and

throw away any nozzles.

- Plastic jars, like peanut butter or mayonnaise jars, but make sure they are completely clean.

- Clean cardboard with no food or chemical residue, like soda boxes, cracker boxes, shipping boxes, and make sure all your boxes have been flattened.


Items that are not recyclable would include the list below as well as any acceptable items that have not been properly cleaned of food or chemical residue.

- Plastic bags of any kind

- Glass of any kind

- Paper products, like newspaper, loose sheets of paper, junk mail, books, magazines or bound paper

- Pizza boxes — They have grease and stuck-on food.

- Plastic toys

- Garden hoses

- Rope

- Electric and appliance cords, and Christmas lights

- Appliances — Those are collected on bulk pickup days.

- Wax-coated items, like juice boxes, milk cartons or Florida’s Natural orange juice

- Paper towels, napkins, tissues or toilet paper

- Paper plates or cups of any kind

- Aerosol cans

- Plastic pet food containers or bags

- Animal feed bags

- Styrofoam

- Plastic containers that fruit come in, like strawberries, blueberries, etc.

- Diapers

- Medical waste

- Plastic packing materials, Styrofoam “peanuts,” bubble wrap, and plastic wrap and straps.

- Aluminum foil, and foil trays and pans

- Scrap metal, lawn mower blades, car parts

- Propane tanks and pressurized containers

- Clothing, shoes, blankets or pillows.

- Stuffed animals

“When in doubt, toss it out,” Rybinski said.

Feds' mixed messages on masks sow confusion

Forgive the American people if they’re in a fog about face masks. President Donald Trump and the federal government have done a number on them.

First there was the don’t-do-it phase. Then the nice-but-not-for-me dissonance. Followed by the local-rules-don’t-apply exceptions. Topped off by Trump’s stated suspicion that some people wear masks just to troll him.

It has all added up to a murky message about one of the critical tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. And the politicization of the to-wear-or-not-to-wear debate is clear in recent public polling.

To be clear: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Some states and local communities require them.

But the messaging disconnect from Washington was evident as recently as Friday, when Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump’s decision to stage two big mask-scarce gatherings in the past week in states with big surges in infections and, in one case, local rules requiring masks.

“We just believe that what’s most important here is that people listen to the leadership in their state and the leadership in their local community and adhere to that guidance whether it has to do with facial coverings or whether it has to do with the size of gatherings,” Pence said.

Early on, the government’s no-mask message was unequivocal. As the first known COVID-19 infections were identified on U.S. soil, top public health officials insisted masks should be reserved for front-line workers.

Later, the CDC issued its recommendation for cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures were difficult to maintain. But Trump immediately undercut that guidance by flatly stating that he wouldn’t be following it.

He told The Wall Street Journal this month that some people wear masks simply to show that they disapprove of him.

Now, the mask debate is heating up in the South and West, where infections are surging to levels the country hasn’t seen since April, when the Northeast and Midwest were particularly hard-hit.

In Arizona, Florida, and Texas, with GOP governors and huge spikes in infections, there’s been a hesitance to require people to wear masks in public spaces.

But in California, Nevada and North Carolina,- with Democratic governors and increasing infection levels, rules requiring masks took effect this past week.

The divide on masks is stark even within Republican-leaning Sun Belt states, where some big city Democratic mayors have imposed their own mask rules.

Further complicating the messaging is that as Trump questions the effectiveness of masks and refuses to wear one in public, Surgeon General Jerome Adams has taken to Twitter to declare that “I show my patriotism by wearing a face covering in public!”

That would be the same surgeon general who tweeted on Feb. 29: “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

The dithering over face masks has unnerved public health experts as studies suggest that the coverings could have a dramatic impact on limiting the virus’ death toll.

“The public health community, I think, has been very clear that face masks can help reduce the spread of the virus,” said Ayaz Hyder, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University. “The problem is you send mixed messages when the person at the top of the federal government is saying, ‘Nah, I’m OK.’”

The political calculations of the debate are playing out all over the country, and evident in public polling.

While most other protective measures such as social distancing get broad bipartisan support, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they’re wearing a mask when leaving home, 76% to 59%, according to a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

In Texas, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott this month issued an executive order prohibiting municipalities from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who refuse to wear masks. But he has not opposed efforts by some Texas cities and counties to require businesses to impose face mask rules for their employees.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said mayors, not the state, would decide their own mask mandates. Richard Mack, president of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, declared at an anti-mask rally in Scottsdale this past week that mask mandates were government overreach and wouldn’t be enforced.

“We do have a pandemic in America and in Arizona,” Mack said. “But it’s not the coronavirus. The pandemic is one of universal corruption, the pandemic is one of the destruction of our Constitution.

In Florida, which reported nearly 9,000 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has rejected Democrats’ pleas for a statewide mask order, saying “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

On Friday, Bruce Owens, 66, of Lakeland, Florida, wore a white surgical mask as he walked around downtown St. Petersburg. He said he’s been disappointed by the disparate responses of Florida’s elected officials to the outbreak.

In Lakeland, he says, officials opted against a face mask mandate, while the mayor of the larger St. Petersburg signed an ordinance Monday that requires masks inside public places.

“They’ve handled it extremely poorly,” Owens said of state officials. “They haven’t really listened to the experts.”

Charles Kyle Durr, of Groveland, Florida, said he would wear a mask if required, but questioned the need for a broad government mandate. “I don’t think everyone needs to wear a mask,” Durr wrote to the AP. “Only a person with symptoms of Covid or someone who’s been diagnosed with Covid needs to wear a mask.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is eager to turn face masks into a campaign issue. He told a Pittsburgh television he “would do everything possible” to require Americans to wear face masks in public settings where social distance can’t be maintained.

Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, responded that “people should follow CDC guidelines.”

But on Tuesday, Trump was in Phoenix for a Students for Trump event at a megachurch, where few attendees wore masks. The president declined to wear one despite the Democratic mayor urging him to do so.

Appearing before a House committee that same day, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, was asked about Trump’s refusal to wear a mask.

Fauci avoided taking direct aim at the president but said he personally wears a mask “not only because I want to protect others and to protect myself, but also to set an example.”

On Friday, members of the White House coronavirus task force once again urged Americans to practice social distancing, frequently wash their hands, and wear face coverings in public spaces.

But Pence sidestepped questions about whether the president’s refusal to wear a mask and his large campaign gatherings were sending conflicting messages.

“Even in a health crisis, the American people don’t forfeit our constitutional rights,” Pence said.