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County may modify garbage contract, after hearing from public June 2

SEBRING — Waste Connections officials asked for and got a workshop Tuesday with Highlands County commissioners to discuss their contract.

County commissioners told staff to meet with the company officials about possible contract modifications for discussion at the June 2 meeting, in two weeks.

Commissioners hope to gather public input on possible amendments, make adjustments, and make a decision as early as June 16.

Kurt Salac, director of Municipal Business Development and Governmental Affairs for Waste Connections in Florida, called the current contract, including collecting recyclables in a dead market, “unsustainable.”

Salac also said a 70% drop in the market for recyclable material, high standards for zero load contamination, 30-40% contamination rate for local recycling loads and 20% rate increases for trucking and processing have all but eliminated the company’s bottom line.

He said the company expected to spend $1 million on a hauling facility at the Highlands County landfill and $500,000 on a recycling facility, but the recycling building cost $1.3 million and the hauling facility is no longer feasible — even though the contract demands it.

In a presentation, County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. said Waste Connections wants the county to remove the hauling facility requirement, let the company apply the Gulf Coast consumer price index to fuel, plus increase residential rates by 17% and commercial by 7%.

County Commissioner Don Elwell said he’s received hundreds of complaints from residents via social media about failures in both collection and customer service.

Given the rate increase approximately four years ago to $173 — the county ordinance set the cap at $195 — he doesn’t think residents will go for another hike.

When he asked Salac what would happen if the county did nothing and told the company, “Have a nice day,” Salac said the company would also say, “Have a nice day,” and explore options to exit the contract.

“It’s not something we take lightly,” Salac said, adding that the company would provide a transition period. “Absolutely, we would not leave a bag of trash on the ground.”

According to Howerton, if the county re-bids the contract, the rates will go higher, based on rates neighboring counties have received for service.

Commissioners asked Howerton if they could do away with recycling. He said that would make Highlands the first county in Florida to refuse the state recycling mandate.

They asked if the county could go back to placing large recycling bins around the county. Howerton said those loads were always contaminated.

“The bins are seen as Dumpsters and are used as Dumpsters,” Howerton said.

Perez gives God credit for COVID-19 recovery

This good news story sponsored by Sebring Meats, 3721 Kenilworth Blvd., Sebring, FL 33870; 863-314-6177.

SEBRING – When Ivette and Jesus Perez said their wedding vows to stick together in sickness and in heath until death do they part, they may never have imagined how coronavirus would test those vows 34 years later. Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff lined the long hallway and waved pom-poms as the the couple left AdventHealth Sebring on Tuesday. Ivette wore a Wonder Woman outfit complete with crown. Her ride was in a wheelchair however, not an invisible jet. Tears of joy ran down her face and some of the faces of those who were part of her treatment team.

Perez was escorted home by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office where she is a volunteer chaplain.

Perez and Jesus are co-pastors of Casa de la Adoracion y Alabonza (House of Praise and Worship) at 4708 Kenilworth Blvd. in Sebring. Both say her healing was a gift from God.

Ivette is not 100% sure how she contracted the virus but is pretty sure it was through an acquaintance who had tested positive.

“I think I was vulnerable because I had pneumonia years ago,” Ivette said in her self-proclaimed Spanglish. “My kids and my husband are fine.”

When she developed symptoms of fever, loss of taste and diarrhea, she was treated at the triage tent at the hospital and told she had pneumonia and sent home with medication. When her symptoms worsened, she went back and was hospitalized.

Ivette was in very critical condition. She had a chest tube, a ventilator, food tubes, ended up in a coma and would have to have a tracheotomy. She flat-lined on three separate occasions. Due to complications from the virus, she also received a pacemaker while in the hospital.

Because of visitor restrictions, Jesus was only allowed to visit when Ivette flat-lined and was only able to see her through a window in the door. Jesus has recently been able to visit with her daily. He said the visits lifted Ivette’s spirits and has helped with her therapies.

Ivette spent much time in a coma and doesn’t remember parts of her ordeal. When she woke up hooked up to tubes and monitors, she was shocked.

“I said ‘oh my God, what has happened,’” Ivette recounted her experience. “I couldn’t talk. I told myself, ‘don’t be anxious.’ I was so thirsty.”

Perhaps the hardest part of the experience was not having her family by her side. She was able to FaceTime with her grandkids but she could not verbally communicate with them.

“I didn’t have the strength to write,” she said. “I lost 30 pounds but now I can eat soft foods. Every day that comes is a blessing. I thank God I am alive. I feel the favor of God on my life. I died three times.”

For Jesus, “The scariest part for me was knowing she was in a coma and not knowing if she was going to wake up; not being by her side and holding her hand.”

When asked why she thought she was healed, she said it was because she still had a lot of work to do.

“It is my testimony,” she said. “He will be glorified by what he did for me. People that never pray before prayed for me. This is a harvest. I’m not a book. This is not a movie. I am a real miracle. I would tell people that God’s plan is for good and not for bad.”

The couple said people from around the world prayed for them.

Ivette said she was intubated on her birthday and also missed Mother’s Day while sick. She plans to make up for that, but later, when she is stronger.

She said the worst part of the experience was all the tubes and not being able to move. The most painful procedure was the removal of the chest tube. She knows she has scars, but is happy to be alive.

“AdventHealth Sebring was wonderful,” Jesus said. “They all pulled in and did what they needed to get her better. Everyone did their jobs. They contacted me daily about her condition. I slept with the phone in my hand. Living in a small town and knowing half the nurses and some of the doctors was a comfort to us. We made new friends.”

Ivette was the first patient at AdventHeatlh to receive convalescent plasma therapy. She said although the medical staff thought about moving her, she was too critical to move. She felt she got excellent care.

“Dr. (Luis) Duharte told the nurses, ‘I can’t let this woman die.’ He went above and beyond for me. Dr. (Darmaris) Pena Evertz is an angel; she was there everyday,” Ivette said. “ The ICU staff nurses brushed my hair and gave me massages. They really pampered me. Maria Medina, Carmen Baez and Iris Ortiz, I felt the love and compassion. I give all the glory to God guiding the doctors and nurses. ”

Ivette gave some advice to others who may be concerned they have coronavirus or have become infected. “Just be calm and trust in the Lord,” she said. “Follow instructions. Be patient and pray. Put your life in the Lord. Follow his will.”

Surveys seek input on fall school reopening

SEBRING — Many have responded to the School Board of Highlands County’s surveys about returning to school in the fall with still many unknowns concerning reopenings after the COVID-19 closures.

There is a survey for district staff and another survey for parents, students and the general public.

Superintendent Brenda Longshore said both surveys will close on Friday, but since things are changing so rapidly, she might do the survey again in the second and third weeks of June and then have some options for parents and students by July 1.

“They [parents] have supplied a number of resources of things that would help them increase their confidence level for their child to return to school, everything from masks and temperature checks to making sure that sick children don’t come in to school,” she said, adding that respondents have a lot of good ideas they included in their surveys.

About 1,000 staff members have responded thus far, she said. “About 70% would like to come right back in face-to-face trying to do everything we can do to make it as safe as possible.”

According to the district’s 2020-21 calendar, teachers would start on Aug. 3 with students returning for class on Aug. 11.

The other survey is for parents, students and the community, Longshore said, which also had a good response with 4,000 thus far.

“That was very positive I thought,” she said. About 68% are ready to jump back into school in August. About 65% have stated they are ready for the regular school day every day.

The questions on the parent/student/community survey include:

• If this decision is allowed to be made locally, which school schedule do you prefer: Start back just as planned in August and finish before Memorial Day or delay the school start until after Labor Day and continue until mid-June?

• Should the first few weeks of school be a regular school day with schools doing their best with social distancing or having students stay at home for distance learning using devices, internet or paper-based packets?

• Parents are asked if their child would likely be wearing a mask or not wear a mask when classes resume and what would be needed to improve their confidence about their child returning to school in the fall?

There is a link to the survey on the School District’s Facebook page and the homepage of its website — www2.highlands.k12.fl.us.

Longshore is working with one of the state’s reopening task forces with six other superintendents. Also, there are local task forces working on transportation, food services, curriculum and student services.

“We are working really hard to try to ensure that we are doing everything possible to make our schools as safe as possible,” she said.

Florida's COVID-19 death toll surpasses 2,000

SEBRING — The state COVID-19 death toll surpassed 2,000 for a total of 2,052, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The number of cases during the pandemic in Highlands is now at 107 with two new virus cases reported on Monday.

The number of deaths in Highlands remains at 8, with overall 37 having been hospitalized due to COVID-19.

The demographics of the resident cases in Highlands show an age range of 0 to 85 with a median age of 61, with 53 males and 53 females having tested positive.

The Florida Department of Health Highlands will be having more drive-thru COVID-19 testing events on the following dates:

• Thursday, May 21 from 5-7 p.m. at the Florida Department of Health Highlands County, 7205 S. George Blvd., in Sebring.

• Tuesday, May 26 from 9-11 a.m. at Memorial Elementary School, 867 S. Memorial Drive, Sebring.

Okeechobee County has added 20 new cases in the past six days including 7 new cases on May 13 and 8 new cases on Sunday for a total of 45 cases, but no deaths. Hardee County has 44 cases and no deaths.

Miami-Dade County has 28% of the state’s deaths with 578. After a spike of 545 new cases in Dade on Saturday, there were 173 new cases on Sunday and 126 on Monday for a total of 15,942.

Nationwide, there have been 1,517,681 cases and 90,802 deaths.

Worldwide, there have been 4,624,817 cases and 319,213 deaths.