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School Board, partners to provide low-cost ECG tests for athletes

SEBRING — Student athletics with the School Board of Highlands County will be able to get a very low cost physical and ECG/electrocardiogram through a proposed partnership between Who We Play For, AdventHealth and the School Board.

At its meeting at 5:30 p.m. today, the School Board will consider a contract with Who We Play For.

Garrett Roberts spoke to the School Board recently about the importance of athletes getting an ECG and the efforts of Who We Play For to make it affordable for families.

“I’m extremely grateful that the School Board is taking steps to protect student athletes who have undiagnosed and potentially deadly heart-related conditions,” Roberts said Monday. “Sudden cardiac arrest is the ‘number one’ cause of deaths of student athletes and the ‘number one’ cause of death on school campuses in the U.S.

“The partnership between the School Board, Who We Play For, and AdventHealth has created a program that will provide our student athletes high quality heart screenings and physicals to ensure the safety of our student athletes in Highlands County.”

Roberts is the general counsel for the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

District Director of Safety & Security Timothy Leeseberg noted the Florida High School Athletic Association has recommended for years an EKG, ECG and/or cardio stress test.

The School Board was approached by a group called “Who We Play For” with a proposal of AdventHealth conducting physicals and EKG’s for student athletes.

The cost would be $20 to the athlete’s family. This was in large part due to a partnership between Who We Play For and AdventHealth, Leeseberg said.

AdventHealth would work with the schools to set up days to have the physicals and EKG’s completed at the schools.

In 2014 Who We Play For (WWPF) was established as a 501 c3 (non-profit) and began partnering with schools across the state of Florida and six other states, to provide affordable ECG screenings for their students. The goal has always been to show the country that not only is it imperative, but it is also possible to deliver affordable ECG screenings to every child no matter their level of athletics, socio-economic status or geographical location.

WWPF states, to date, it has screened over 100,000 people in over 300 communities across seven states. WWPF has identified 76 individuals that needed some level of medical intervention, including heart transplants, and hundreds of others with abnormalities that can now be monitored.

The proposed contract with the School District states, SCA (sudden cardiac arrest) is the number one cause of death for student athletes and recent medical studies have indicated that contracting COVID increases an individual’s chances of developing heart issues.

In this year’s Legislative session, Senate Bill 280 would have made an EKG a requirement for sports in grades six and up, but the bill was substituted by House Bill 157, which then included the EKG language that was later deleted in the revised bill that was signed by Gov. DeSantis on June 21.

House Bill 157 encourages school districts to provide basic training in first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation, for all students, in grade six and grade eight.

School districts are required to provide basic training in first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation, for all students in grade nine and grade 11.

Instruction in the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation must be based on a one-hour, nationally recognized program that uses the most current evidence-based emergency cardiovascular care guidelines.

Protecting the county's natural resources

Editor’s note: Want to know more about the people who work in the county government, serving us, the residents? The Highlands County Board of County Commissioners will provide regular stories and photos to help educate us on the jobs and challenges that each of the county departments face.

SEBRING — Protecting Highlands County’s natural resources is a team effort. County staff works to preserve environmental benefits that our lands provide.

On a bright, sunny day during the summer months, you usually see boaters out on any of the local lakes. But you may not know that one of those boats may be occupied by county staff from the Natural Resources division.

Natural Resources is under the umbrella of the Road and Bridge department. It has a staff of three, who are responsible for managing and maintaining the natural resources of the county, including water bodies, conservation lands, natural habitat and restoration.

The nuts and bolts: They handle numerous responsibilities, including:

- assisting all agencies with research quality data in monitoring, public education, and management of our water quality and aquatic ecosystem;

- supporting University of Florida’s LakeWatch program with monthly sampling and training of citizen participants to support long-term monitoring;

- conducting Lake Vegetation Indexes via Department of Environmental Protection on public-access lakes in the county to monitor and analyze trends;

- coordinating with Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in studies on native vegetation planting on our water bodies;

- monitoring and surveying nesting of ospreys on Lake Istokpoga to provide the data and information with agencies involved in lake management; and

- participating in several watershed studies and best management practices implementations with South Florida Water Management District and Southwest Water Management District – this helps protect and sustain waters throughout the county.

“The Natural Resources division is small relative to other [county] departments,” Dawn Ritter, Natural Resources lakes manager, said. “However, the responsibilities we assume are extremely important to the quality of life of Highlands County residents.”

On a recent Wednesday in June, Natural Resources staff members JD Foster and Mike McMillian launched a boat onto Lake Adelaide in Avon Park to conduct a Lake Vegetation Index. An LVI is one assessment tool used to evaluate and measure the condition of a lake’s well-balanced plant community. Using the tool supports Florida’s water quality standards and Florida’s impaired water rules in the public lakes within the county. An impaired lake is one that has problems with plant quality, water quality, or both.

“Meaning the lake is not functioning like it should, and it may have a pollutant affecting the plant and water quality, such as a fertilizer,” McMillian said. When a lake is impaired, algae blooms can occur, he said.

When conducting an LVI, Foster and McMillian are looking at what percentage of plants are native and non-native, which plants are dominant, and which ones are sensitive and are more susceptible to be adversely affected by human intrusion, people, houses, septic tanks, etc. On Lake Adelaide, to look at the plant types the lake may have, the lake is divided into 12 sectors and Foster and McMillian examine four of the sectors during the LVI.

“What we are doing is finding out what plants can tell you about that lake,” McMillian said. As part of their work while out on the water, they use a tool called a frotus. Foster quipped how the name rhymes with “throw this,” and that really is a good way to describe the tool.

A frotus is a lake weed remover. You just throw it into your lake and simply pull it back to slice through weeds and other debris as it scrapes along the lake bed. Foster and McMillian use it to pull up aquatic plants for specimen cataloguing.

They also spend time along the shore line, climbing out of the boat and identifying aquatic plants by sight, touch and smell. Many times, you hear Foster say, “Ohh, look at that,” as they pass plant samples back and forth for inspection.

“I don’t think people realize the diversity our lakes have until you start going out and really getting into them,” Foster said.

Staff also manage the wildlife and habitat for two county-owned conservation lands – the Sun ’N Lake Preserve, a 1,350-acre property in Sebring, and the Grassy Lake Scrub, a 55-acre property in Lake Placid.

“We thoroughly enjoy working in a natural resource gold mine such as Highlands County,” Ritter said.

In addition, they support other county departments internally by obtaining natural resources grants, permits and wildlife surveys and relocations such as gopher tortoise and sand skink. In Florida, the gopher tortoise is listed as threatened and both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law.

Gopher tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development take place and permits must be obtained from FWC before capturing and relocating tortoises. Natural Resources staff can survey future work areas for gopher tortoises and if any are found, help in their location and removal to an appropriate mitigation site.

Having Natural Resources staff conduct the surveys and proper removal is faster and provides a cost savings of thousands of dollars per tortoise in which the county does not have to pay a consultant for surveying, permitting, time and equipment of removing a tortoise.

“My team and I consider it a privilege to be able to work alongside other county staff and together solve issues and implement practices that create present and future benefits for all our residents,” Ritter said.

Fifty acres of the Grassy Lake Scrub is designated as a Permittee Responsible Off-site Mitigation Area for sand skink mitigation. The PROMA is managed and maintained for the endangered and protected sand skink, blue-tailed mole skink, gopher tortoise, and eight species of federally-listed endangered plants.

In obtaining and managing this property, a total of 50 sand skink credits was awarded to Highlands County from United States Fish and Wildlife Services for future county development projects. Each credit is estimated to be worth $20,000 to date.

This makes the 50-acre PROMA site worth an estimated cost savings of $1 million – when the county wants to develop projects that negatively impact sand skinks, they must mitigate the impact and with the PROMA site in place, the county can use its own mitigation credits. The credits, which equate to a dollar value as previously mentioned, are “paid” to an approved mitigation site within the state so it may continue to maintain that site for conservation purposes.

What’s the takeaway? Natural Resources handles questions and matters related to Highlands County’s wildlife, wildlife habitat, lakes and the environment. For more information, visit highlandsfl.gov/departments/road_and_bridge/natural_resources/index.php.

“We have been in every sort of grass clump, [sand] bar, marsh, you name it, in Highlands County,” Foster said.

So, if you are out on a local trail or out on the water on one of the county’s many lakes and happen to come upon a staff member from Natural Resources – give them a wave. They’re part of our community’s natural habitat after all.

Sunday crash claims one life

SEBRING — A single vehicle crash in the early morning hours on Sunday claimed the life of a 24-year-old Sebring man. The unnamed man was a passenger in a sedan that wrecked on DeSoto City Road and Roanoke Street about 2:39 a.m. The next of kin was notified.

Florida Highway Patrol preliminary reports do not include names of those involved in crashes nor the makes and models of the vehicles.

According to the FHP report, the vehicle was driven by a 28-year-old female, also from Sebring. The vehicle was traveling southbound on DeSoto Road when it left the roadway and collided into a concrete pole. The passenger was pronounced dead at the scene.

The report shows the woman was wearing a seat belt and her passenger was not.

There have been 16 traffic fatalities on Highlands County roadways so far this year, according to unofficial records kept by the Highlands News-Sun. Prior to Sunday, the last fatality was on July 4 on State Road 66 near Sparta Road in Sebring.

County's COVID positivity rate on the rise once more

The number of COVID-19 cases in Florida increased sharply with the release of the weekly update by the Florida Department of Health on Friday. There were 23,697 new resident cases for the seven-day period of July 2-8. Based on previous holidays, new infections that were contracted during the Fourth of July holiday will begin to show next week.

The 23,697 is the highest weekly count since April and a 7,666 increase from the previous week.

The state’s positivity rate took a massive jump, climbing to 7.8%, which is a 50% increase from the 5.2% seen the previous week. There are 12 states with higher positivity rates than what Florida reported, with Kansas, Alabama and Arkansas each above 20%.

FDOH reported 32 new COVID-19 deaths as of Friday. The cumulative resident total of 38,157 is 172 more than the 37,985 reported the previous week.

Highlands County showed 67 new cases for the seven-day period, which is 20 more than the 47 new cases reported the previous week. The county’s new case positivity rate was 8.6%, up from the previous rate of 6.6%.

Nearby, Hardee County saw 45 new cases for the same seven-day period and had a 22.2% positivity rate, while DeSoto County had 14 new cases and a 5.5% positivity rate. There were just three new cases in Glades County, Okeechobee County saw 30 new cases with a 9.1% positivity rate, while Polk County had an increase of 687 cases and an 8.7% positivity rate.

There were 257 people vaccinated in the county – down from 333 the previous week – and 48,679 people in Highlands County have been vaccinated in total, which is 46.3% of the county’s population.

Statewide, there were 207,089 people vaccinated, which continued a downward trend in the number of vaccines given each week.

The downward vaccination trend isn’t unique to Florida, as the seven-day average in the U.S. is just 506,771, which is the lowest it’s been since early January when vaccine availability was an issue for many people. At the current rate it will take nine additional months to vaccinate 75% of the country’s population.

Globally, there have been 3.41 billion vaccine doses given in 180 countries, according to Bloomberg, which is 22.2% of the world population. Roughly 32 million doses are being given each day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. is seeing an average of 17,736 new cases per day, which is an increase from the 13,363 seen the prior week. The seven-day average for deaths is 184, which is a decrease from the previous week.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there have been 33.86 million COVID cases and 607,178 deaths in the United States.

Globally, there have been 187 million cases and 4.03 million deaths.