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Girl, missing since 2019, seen in Florida

SEBRING — A teenage girl missing from Tennessee since 2019 turned up in Florida a little more than a week ago, according to Tennessee investigators.

Her non-custodial father, charged with kidnapping her, reportedly has family in the Sebring area. Highlands County Sheriff’s Office officials said their deputies have received and followed leads, but have not located 17-year-old Daphne Westbrook or her 42-year-old father, John Oliver Westbrook.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued an Amber Alert Friday afternoon for Daphne. She and her father may be driving a red and rust-red primer 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle with an orange four-vent rear deck lid, a dent on the right fender behind the bumper, no license plate and no windshield.

She stands 5 feet 3 inches tall, has brown hair and brown eyes and was last seen in Chattanooga in October 2019 when she went to visit her father for a weekend and did not return. John Westbrook stands 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 200 pounds, has brown hair and blue eyes.

She was reported missing on Oct. 7, 2019, out of Chattanooga. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports that authorities charged John Westbrook in June 2020 with custodial interference, then put Daphne on its Tennessee’s Missing Children site at www.tn.gov/tbi.

On Feb. 23 this year, a grand jury in Hamilton County, Tennessee, indicted John Westbrook on a charge of aggravated kidnapping in connection to Daphne’s disappearance.

Authorities believe John could also have traveled to the western United States with Daphne to known contacts in Colorado, New Mexico, California and Washington.

In recent weeks, TBI releases state, evidence found in the investigation has led authorities to become increasingly concerned for Daphne’s well being. TBI officials stated that they issued an AMBER Alert in hopes that it would help other states do the same and help locate the father and daughter faster.

Anyone who sees Daphne Westbrook or John Westbrook can report it to Highlands County Sheriff’s Office at 863-402-7200 or municipal police in Sebring at 863-471-5108 or Lake Placid at 863-699-3757. You also contact TBI at 423-209-7415 or 1-800-TBI-FIND, or email TipsToTBI@tn.gov or FindingDaphne@hcdatn.org.

'If you can, get it': COVID treatment a success for local patient

SEBRING — John Huber had a scare on Dec. 3. The Lake Placid man got diagnosed with COVID-19, along with two sons, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter and a friend from New Jersey.

“They were the only ones together at that time,” said his wife, Julie Huber, who was not among them on the day before Thanksgiving. “I didn’t get anything, that I’m sure of.”

Fortunately, that same day, John Huber got a treatment that had just been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 patients — monoclonal antibody infusion. He was the first in Highlands County to get it.

The FDA describes monoclonal antibodies as “laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens,” such as viruses. One antibody approved for experimental use last November was Bamlanivimab, specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.

It worked. Within two days, Julie Huber said, her husband said he couldn’t feel any better.

“It was the best I felt like in a long time,” John Huber said.

The only downside was that he had to wait 90 days from his treatment before getting vaccinated for COVID-19. He had his first shot on March 4, and is scheduled for a second one April 4.

Would he advise getting this treatment?

“If they can get it, get it,” John Huber said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s terrific.”

Nancy Christensen, vice president and executive director of Physician Services for AdventHealth Sebring, where John Huber got his treatment, said the single-dose, intravenous treatment is free of charge. It triggers the immune system and prevents the disease from progressing too far, she said. It was already in use for other diseases, but studies and trials discovered its effectiveness against COVID-19.

Christensen said it is intended for those who have gotten a diagnosis in the last three days and have developed COVID-19 symptoms within the past 10 days. They should not be hospitalized or on oxygen, but would need to be someone at high risk for progressing to a more severe case, especially if they also have high-risk factors like diabetes, heart disease or obesity and have a doctor’s order.

Other medical criteria Christensen listed include high body mass index, kidney disease, diabetes, immunosuppressive disease, or either pulmonary or respiratory illness.

If a patient is 65 or older, like John Huber, 79, they just need a positive COVID-19 test within the 10-day symptom window and doctor’s order. John Huber also had underlying conditions, his wife said, including being a cancer survivor and having high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Christensen said treatments are via referral from AdventHealth Prompt Care to the hospital’s pulmonary practice, which can treat nine people at once and has treated 261 since January.

“Patients are eager to have some level of treatment available to them,” Christensen said. “[They’re] done within two hours and can return home.”

Patients would spend that time just on the road, one way, if they had to go to Orlando or Tampa for the same treatment.

Also, medical staff call the patients after 24 and 48 hours to check on how they are feeling, Christensen said. Julie Huber said staff made her husband very comfortable, given that he was the first in the county to get it.

AdventHealth Wauchula has started offering the treatment, Christensen said, mainly because so many patients would drive over to Sebring to get treated.

“It’s an absolute honor to be able to provide this service. When it came out to us in late December, it was cutting edge,” Christensen said. “To be able to provide that to the community is an honor for us. To be able to to keep people out of the hospital and extend healing, is truly extending the healing ministry of Christ.”

COVID-19 numbers still trending down; no new deaths.

SEBRING — Highlands County gained another 12 cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday afternoon’s reports from the Florida Department of Health, for a total of 7,422.

The number of deaths, at 307, remains unchanged from the Friday and Thursday reports. Based on Health Department adjusted totals for the last two weeks, the average number of cases has been 14.6 per day for the past two weeks, and 13 per day for the last week.

Out of the county’s case totals, 7,347 were residents and 75 were non-residents. Testing totals, for the first time in eight days, went up over 300, with 337 negative cases out of 349, for a positivity rate of 3.44%, the lowest since Wednesday’s reports.

The median age for new infections has steadily dropped since Tuesday’s report, from 63 down to 37. The county has seen 582 total hospitalizations — holding at 8% of all cases — with 31 people in hospitals for COVID-19 as of Saturday.

Long-term care facilities have had a total of 657 cases — holding at 9% of all cases — and corrections facilities have had 121 total cases. FDOH has recorded 84 deaths from either residents or staff of long-term care facilities.

Statewide, cases rose by 5,167, slightly less than the previous day’s increase of 5,214, bringing the total to 1,973,101. Of those cases, 1,936,788 are residents and 36,331 are non-residents.

Deaths went up by 85 to 32,829 for a total of 32,225 residents and 604 non-residents.

Out of a total of 100,089 tests processed, 94,922 had negative results, for a daily positivity rate of 5.16%, up slightly from the previous day’s 4.88% rate after 105,325 tests and 100,181 negative results.

Running totals of variant case counts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still had Florida well ahead of all other states for the B.1.1.7 variant (U.K. variant), with 690 of the country’s 3,701 cases, followed by Michigan with 562.

It was another good day on the national front, with states reporting an additional 60,678 cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, along with 1,561 deaths. Hospitalizations were at 34,145.

Hospitalizations have declined for the last two months, since Jan. 11.

Thus far, the CDC reports that 101 million vaccine doses have been given. Of those, 66 million, or 19.9% of the U.S. population, have received one dose, with 35 million, 10.5 million, have received both.

In Highlands County, Florida, the Health Department reports that 17,668 have received their first dose of vaccine and 7,334 have received their second, for a total of 25,002, or slightly less than 25% of the entire county population.

The Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering totals for worldwide cases showed the United States with a total of 29.4 million COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with a total of 533,868 deaths.

Globally, there have been 119.4 million cases and 2.64 million deaths.