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Virus cases in 6 Highlands schools prompt quarantines

SEBRING — The School Board of Highlands County reports there have been students or teachers who were positive for COVID-19 at six schools prompting others to be quarantined.

Avon Elementary, Avon Park High, Hill-Gustat Middle, the Kindergarten Learning Center, Sebring Middle and Sun ‘N Lake Elementary are the schools that have had a positive student or teacher.

Deputy Superintendent Andrew Lethbridge said on the first day of school the Health Department informed the district that an Avon Elementary student, who had been tested earlier, was positive for COVID-19. Five other students, who were in contact with the student went home.

A Kindergarten Learning Center student was positive on the first day of school and a teacher at Sebring Middle School tested positive the week before school started, which prompted the quarantine of other teachers, he said.

Also, a Sun ‘N Lake Elementary teacher and an Avon Park High student tested positive for COVID-19.

The district was informed Tuesday of a Hill-Gustat Middle School student who tested positive for COVID-19, which after contact tracing, led to 18 students being sent home as a precautionary measure, Lethbridge said.

The student was not in school this week as the family was waiting for the test results, he said.

The district is teaming with the Health Department for the contact tracing and to notify anyone who may have been within 6-feet of a positive person for 15-minutes or longer.

There is no general message sent to parents when a student is positive for the virus, Lethbridge noted.

There is an interview process with the individual who is positive, Lethbridge explained. Then the Health Department, with the assistance of the school, goes through the student’s day on campus, checking seating charts and where they were seated in the lunchroom and things like that to determine who needs to be notified.

Those who have been in contact would have to be quarantined for 14 days from the time of their last exposure to the positive individual, he said.

Students who are quarantined are moved to the Innovative Learning Environment model (learning online at home), Lethbridge said.

Highlands News-Sun asked about testing for the students who were in close contact with a positive person.

Lethbridge said, “Our expectation is that they are quarantined. If the individual family wants to go and get their child tested that is a personal decision for the family.”

Those in close contact are informed to be more aware of the COVID-19 symptoms, such as a headache, which you may not pay attention to on any given day, Lethbridge said.

There have been situations in which a family member tested positive at home, so the student had to go out of school based on their contact with a virus-positive person, he said.

In the first week of school, the positive cases were in people who were already positive and coming to school and not necessarily anything that was spread at school, Lethbridge said.

“When there is a positive case we are being extremely proactive figuring out who has hit that threshold of within 6-feet for 15 minutes or longer and sending those individuals home,” he said. “We feel for the parents who all of a sudden their students are quarantined for something that is outside their control so we have been trying to support them as well as we can.”

If anyone has had their child tested and is awaiting the results, the child should not be sent to school, Lethbridge said. “We have had several instances with individuals, who should have had their students stay at home, have sent them to school while awaiting results and that should not happen.”

The ramifications is that other people end up being quarantined because a parent did not take precautions with their own child, he said.

Highlands County to the rescue...again

AVON PARK — Before Hurricane Laura even made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, Mike Souther knew he would be headed there with relief supplies for those affected by the massive storm. Laura, with her 150 mph winds and massive storm surge, has caused devastation and thousands are without power. Souther, owner of Souther Signs, has helped bring relief in several natural disasters.

Highlands County citizens, civic groups and church groups collected and transported much-needed supplies after Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas last summer. Based on history, more will be heading to Louisiana and Texas to render aid.

Souther wants to head out next Thursday and will decide where the most need is. He figured he would be heading to Lake Charles/ Cameron area of Louisiana.

“Sometimes it’s easier to be on the outskirts of an area and let people who know the area distribute the supplies’” Souther said.

Souther said he has been driving in areas that turned out to be fairly dangerous routes because of the storm damage. Souther would like all donations to be packed up and ready to go by Wednesday. He will be meeting J. Robert Hyman, driving down from Rockhill, South Carolina, and travel by caravan west. Souther met Hyman through the Jaycee’s organization.


Relief efforts may look different for those donating this year. Those who want to give but do not want to shop in person at busy stores can shop at companies such as Amazon and have items delivered to Souther’s business. Those who don’t want to shop can also donate cash for gas or checks can be made out to the Avon Park/Sebring Jaycees in order to track the money.

Some of the items Souther is seeking are:

• Non-perishable foods such as peanut butter and jelly, canned tuna/chicken, jerky, and vegetables

• Batteries, flashlights, first aid kits

• Cleaning supplies, including bleach

• Personal needs-adult diapers, feminine hygiene products, toiletries

• Baby needs- diapers, wipes, formula and foods

Some items should not donated because they can actually become a secondary disaster. Clothing and toys should not be donated. They end up in piles and gather mold and end up in a landfill. Souther said they are meeting the people’s immediate needs. Water, although needed, is heavy and takes up valuable space.

“The government is pretty good about getting water and ice in (to an area) fast,” Souther said. “By the time we get there, they should have water. The water will take a lot of room up in the van.”

Souther said he could run his business through the internet remotely. He also said he would return to the area when and if needed.

“I don’t know why I do it,” Souther said. “I guess my mom just taught me to care for other people. I think back to when Highlands County needed help and other people helped us.”

Souther’s email is

County adds 25 new cases of COVID and 3 deaths

SEBRING – According to the daily COVID-19 update from the Florida Department of Health, Highlands County has added 25 new cases of the virus, bringing the total cases to 1,781. In fact, the numbers are up across the board.

The positivity rate at 10.78%, has nearly doubled Wednesday’s 5.81% rate. Thursday’s positivity rate was the highest in two weeks. The two-week positivity rate is 6.73% for the county. The World Health Organization has recommended a 5% or lower positivity rate for two weeks for reopening.

Coronvirus has started popping up in students and teachers. There were four new cases of coronavirus in 5-14-year-olds overnight, according to the FDOH update. The median age on Thursday was 34, with an overall median age of 47.

Three deaths have been reported for the county with a total of 60 deaths attributed to the virus. The age group associated with the most deaths is 75-84-year-olds with 23 deaths or 38% on Thursday. The most three recent deaths occurred in a 52-year-old male, a 69-year-old female and a 92-year-old female.

According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, there are 24 people in the county in the hospital for coronavirus care. The bed census for Highlands County is 198 with 58, or 22.66% of beds available.

Highlands County has had 302 cases of COVID-19 in long-term facilities that includes staff and residents. Additionally, there were 54 cases of coronavirus in correctional facilities, including staff and inmates.

The state added 3,2269 new cases of COVID for a total of 611,991. Thursday’s new cases were a slight improvement of Wednesday’s 3,300. Thursday’s positivity rate took an uptick to 6.36%.

New deaths climbed by 135 for a total of 10,868 lives lost. There have been 37,718 hospitalizations with 7,339 patients (19%) from the 65-74-year-old rage.

The report shows 6% (38,770 people) of all cases in the state are found in long-term care facilities among residents and staff. Correctional facilities have reported 19,846 cases of staff and inmates.

Nationwide, there have been a total of 5,846,591 cases of COVID-19 reported and 180,118 deaths associated with the virus.

Globally, 24,271,466 cases of coronavirus have been reported with 827,527 deaths attributed to COVID-19.