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Residents share feelings on lifting lockdown

SEBRING — County residents have lifted their collective eyes to Governor Ron DeSantis and his task force, anxiously awaiting news on opening the state back up for business. Closer to home, the Highlands County Board of County Comission will be discussing the matter in a special meeting this morning. (This meeting was canceled Monday evening.)

The county’s coronavirus case numbers remained at 76 over the weekend but increased by four in the Monday morning update provided by the Florida Department of Health. The FDOH announced on Saturday the Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard will now only be updated once per day.

With the local and state governments trying to decide on the best way to reopen the state, the Highlands News-Sun reached out to some of the county’s residence to get their feelings on reopening the state, as well as the county. We asked if they thought it was safe to reopen for business as usual and whether they would continue to self isolate if the stay-at-home order is lifted.

Joe Wright, a dairy farmer from Avon Park, is concerned about financial loss.

“Before I go broke, I want to tell you something, I am not sure the shutdown is worse than having the disease. It is killing small businesses; killing demand; we don’t have sales for 20% of our milk,” Wright said. “So if the government wants to keep it shutdown, that is fine, they need to get a lot bigger checkbook out.”

Jack Higgins is a retiree in Sebring who said he felt blessed, but at the same time felt sorry for those who were out of work.

“It is just devastating. For people who have two kids, a couple of cars and a house payment, it has got be devastating for them,” Higgins said.

Higgins said he wasn’t sure about reopening because different news networks are putting out conflicting information on flattening the curve.

“I think they would be wise to wait a little bit, just to make sure,” he said. “I am not in that position so it is hard for me to say.”

Amy Textley, a teacher at Avon Park High School, seems to think it’s prudent to stay isolated at least for now.

“Highlands County should remain in place a little longer, at least until we have met the criteria the administration has set at a minimum,” she said. “This is an unprecedented time in our lives. Highlands County schools have acted in the best interest of students, families and staff. Even though it has been a hurdle to transition to virtual learning, we can be proud that we have made the transition. We will need to consider how school will be different in the future as we adjust to a new normal and be ready to embrace change.”

Stacy Osorio is a retail manager in Sebring and lives in Avon Park. She feels the lockdown should remain for the time being.

She said, “As the number of cases in our county is still increasing, I feel it would be negligent to reopen. Our citizens shouldn’t be guinea pigs. The main reason I’ve been hearing people say they want the state reopened is for jobs. However, essential businesses are hiring ... so in my opinion, that’s not even a valid argument. As for schools remaining virtual for the remainder of the year, I think that’s the best idea. I do not think social distancing would work in a classroom, hallways, cafeteria, etc.”

Paula Fabik is a retiree in Lake Placid. She and her husband are senior citizens and feel the quarantine should be kept. Fabik has an underlying medical concern and said she will still stay hunkered down even if the lockdown is lifted. She feels sorry for the people who have to work and cannot stay at home. Fabik has her groceries delivered and tries to support small businesses by ordering take-out once a week.

“I think we need to wait until mid-May and then have gradual openings,” she said. “I understand people have jobs they want to get back to. I am totally against big group meetings. We have come a long way. If we do open, we should have social distancing.”

Many times the residents showed empathy to those who have lost incomes, especially in light of the crippled unemployment website. However, at the same time, they want to remain healthy. Small business owners are feeling the same frustrations. Business owners are having to consider the loss of revenue and the health of their staff.

Steve and Gini Shevick are the owners of Chic Chick Boutique and have closed their store on Main Avenue in Lake Placid, for the most part. The Shevicks have been using Facebook to advertise safety items such as face masks and hand sanitizer. Customers pay online or over the phone and the items are either shipped or picked up curbside. The business has changed dramatically from a boutique with apparel and accessories and an embroidery store.

They have some concerns about staying healthy when others do not seem to be using precautions, such as using masks.

“We are desperately hoping to recover someday,” Gini said. “We have to think about our safety and our employees. I care for my mother and I cannot get her sick. We are in an elderly community. People are not using the CDC guidelines of social distancing measures to flatten the curve now.”

DeSantis has asked for the public’s input on reopening the state via an online form available at app.smartsheet.com.

Residents didn't agree; county going ahead with fencing

SEBRING — Lake Denton Drive residents will now have a wire field fence between their road and the multi-use path on Panther Parkway.

As Highlands County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. reported to the Highlands News-Sun, although residents had requested a 6-foot-tall galvanized chain link fence, with top rails, they can’t afford to pay for it.

A chain link fence would cost $15,000-$20,000 more to install than the field fence the county had budgeted, Howerton said, and the county would insist on having them pay to maintain it.

When County Administrator Randy Vosburg reported on the matter to commissioners at last week’s meeting, he said they couldn’t get the residents — approximately 15 of them — to agree to, even among themselves, on a type of fence, maintenance cost and an agreement with the county to pay for it.

“The last request, and we had people on both sides of the fence — pun intended — they wanted the county to incur the additional cost,” Vosburg said. “They also wanted the county to be responsible for maintenance.”

Given that, he said, the county would go ahead with the field fence, as budgeted, at a cost of $5,400 for that section.

When Vosburg asked if commissioners had any questions, Commission Chair Ron Handley said, “I think we’re all clear on the fence deal.”

When county commissioners last talked about the request of Lake Denton residents for more than a field fence between their road and the Parkway’s multi-use path, commissioners’ consensus was not to foot the bill for the extra cost either to install or maintain the requested chain link fence.

Residents wanted more than that, too: Vegetation against the fence as a buffer between them and the roadway.

Howerton advised commissioners against that: High winds would bring down a chain link fence, and vegetation against it would ensure that.

“Absolutely no on the hedge,” Commission Chair Ron Handley said at the time. “That’s a maintenance nightmare.”

Residents at two other spots had made arrangements with the county. One resident paid the extra cost to put up a wood-slat privacy fence, on their own property, with an agreement to have the resident pay full cost to maintain and replace it in the future.

The other situation was with Crystal Lake Club. The golf course manufactured-home community paid, collectively, the full cost of a chain link fence along their frontage to the Parkway, on their property, with no help from the county.

Virus count increase to 80 in Highlands

SEBRING — After no new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the tally increased by four to 80 in the Monday morning report from the Florida Department of Health.

The total continues to have only one non-resident and the number of deaths from the virus remains at seven, which is the same number of deaths in the entire state of Wyoming, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Wyoming has had a total of 502 positive cases to date.

There has been a total of 29 hospitalizations in Highlands due to the virus.

The demographic data for the latest Highlands cases was not included in the Monday report from the Florida Department of Health, which shows two cases from Friday: a 55-year-old male and a 95-year-old female.

In Highlands, the highest number of cases, 17, has been in the age range of 55-64, followed by 13 in the age range of 65-74, 12 of the age 75-84 and 10 cases in the age group of 23-34.

There have been a total of 1,069 tested in Highlands for COVID-19 with 988 negative and one inconclusive.

Miami-Dade County has 11,440 cases and 302 deaths, but its 209 new cases on Sunday was the lowest daily number of new cases since March 27 when there were 195 new cases.

Statewide there were 535 new cases on Sunday, which was the lowest daily number of new cases in a month since March 25 when there were 516 new cases.

Statewide there have been 32,138 cases, which includes 31,290 positive residents, 5,010 hospitalizations and 1,088 deaths.

Nationwide, there have been 972,969 cases with 55,118 deaths.

Worldwide, there have been 3,002,303 cases with 208,131 deaths.

Youngblood charged with shooting in a residential property

AVON PARK — An Avon Park man was arrested Sunday afternoon after law enforcement was called to State Road 17 near Lake Letta in regards to a man running from one residence to another while carrying a weapon.

Vernon Jefferson Youngblood, 65, of 2451 State Road 17 South, has been charged with firing a weapon in a residential property and possession of a weapon or ammo by a convicted Florida felon. Youngblood was being held at the Highlands County Jail without bond on the charge of firing the weapon in a residential property as of Monday’s press deadline.

According to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office arrest report, deputies arrived at lot 21 at the mobile home park just before 2 p.m. The deputy said in his report that Youngblood was made aware of his Miranda rights and agreed to speak with him. The deputy noted Youngblood was sweating “profusely,” had a hard time remaining still and was thirsty. The deputy stated these actions might be attributed to narcotics use.

Youngblood told Highlands County deputies that he had observed someone looking in the window of his home. He told deputies the people had allegedly been looking through the window all night and he had threatened them with a shotgun.

The man’s girlfriend told deputies that Youngblood had told her through the night that people were looking through the window. At one point, she said Youngblood was standing near the bedroom window and pointing the shotgun at the window when she heard a shot. She immediately ran out of the home.

Other witnesses told deputies that Youngblood was seen running outside between two residences while carrying a shotgun. One of the residences was Youngblood’s brother’s home, according to the report.

Youngblood consented to have deputies search his residence. Inside, deputies found nine Winchester 20-guage shotgun rounds and one spent casing. The casing was found inside the bedroom, where deputies also found a hole in the bedroom window consistent with the firing of a shotgun.

A criminal history check revealed that Youngblood is a convicted felon since 1995 and has not had his rights restored.