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County to make pet shelter available

SEBRING — After much searching, Highlands County Emergency Management has established a temporary pet shelter for the 2020 hurricane season.

“As with any other county shelter, the pet shelter should be used as a last resort,” said LaTosha Reiss, Highlands County emergency manager.

Space at the pet shelter is limited, and restrictions apply, Reiss said.

County officials have not yet given the location of the shelter. Because it is a temporary solution, that will be announced once the shelter opens, said Gloria Rybinski, Highlands County public information officer.

“The main point here is that we want people to preregister,” Rybinski said.

That way, Rybinski said, county officials can plan for how many owners with pets will come to the shelter. Proof of residency is required.

Preregistration will also prompt owners to make sure their pets are current with vaccinations and that they have a pet carrier to house their pets once at the shelter.

Dogs and cats must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and wearing a current license tag.

Pet owners must provide their animal’s food — enough for at least five days — water, medications, treats, bedding, toys and any other items they may need.

Owners who have preregistered with the Emergency Management Special Needs shelter may preregister their pets to stay at the pet shelter.

Rybinski said, if they are approved and there is space available, they will get directions on how to drop off and the pick the animal upon the opening of the shelter.

In every other case, a maximum of two pet owners may stay at the shelter. All other family members must stay at a nearby human shelter.

The pet shelter will house pets in a separate area from people and pet owners have a schedule to attend to their animal’s needs.

As with other county shelters, pet owners must bring their own food and water, sleeping bags, bedding, and personal toiletries — only the essentials, because the shelter has limited space. Items that are too large or not considered essential will not be allowed.

Prohibited items for any shelter include furniture, weapons, alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs.

The shelter will not stay open long after the store has passed. Once the weather and roads are clear, the shelter will close so that Animal Control personnel, who will staff the pet shelter, may return to care for animals at their facility.

All pets and people will have to leave the pet shelter. Anyone whose home is still unsafe may make arrangements with the Emergency Operations Center and Animal Control to house their animal while they go to an open human shelter and/or until they can find alternate shelter.

For the safety of county staff and other animals, Highlands County reserves the right to refuse aggressive animals. The shelter will not accept animals classified as dangerous, potentially dangerous or registered as guard dogs.

The shelter also won’t accept livestock, reptiles, birds or pocket pets.

To register, fill out a “Pet Shelter Registration Form,” available online at and email it to

For details, call 863-385-1112.

CARES Act: More than 2K individuals, 732 businesses applied

SEBRING — A total of 2,344 local individuals and 732 businesses have submitted applications for help through the county under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Highlands County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski said the county received more applications than that, but those were the ones that got through the process and submitted applications before the deadline.

Rybinski said the county also had 26 applications submitted for community proposals, out of 204 applications that were started through the online submission system, but not completed.

Likewise, the county also had a total of 3,219 individual applications started in the online system and 955 business applications started, but not finished.

At this point, Rybinski said, she can’t break down the numbers to show how many of the business applications came from for-profit businesses and how many came from non-profit entities.

The same is true of individual applications: She cannot say the size of the families that would benefit from those funds.

She anticipates that the funds will be disbursed by Sept. 30, as is required under the agreement that the county entered to receive surplus CARES Act funds.

That’s when the county has to make its first report to state officials.

The funds are part of the $4.6 million the county has received from surplus in the program to help individuals, businesses and communities still shaken by economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlands and other counties got these funds after large counties got their funds, but that’s turned into an advantage, said Business and Economic Development Executive Manager Meghan DiGiacomo, as Highlands County has been able to duplicate the larger counties’ protocols and procedures in taking applications and disbursing funds.

Legislative Affairs Grant Coordinator Sydney Armstrong and DiGiacomo presented a plan in early July to disburse $4,633,686 as follows:

- For-profit businesses — $1,750,000, or 37.8%.

- Non-profit businesses — $250,000, or 5.4%.

- Individuals — $1,250,000, or 27%.

- Community proposals — $250,000, or 5.4%.

- Personal protection equipment (PPE) — $120,000, or 2.6%.

- Testing — $500,000, or 10.8%.

- Administrative/government costs — $513,686, or 11.1%.

Those numbers may change depending on applicants’ responses.

Workshop set to review Return to Athletics Plan

SEBRING — The School Board of Highlands County will have a workshop at 4 p.m., Sept. 8, to review and discuss the district’s Return to Athletics Plan.

At its Aug. 19 special meeting, the School Board approved the district’s sports task force recommendation to start practices on Monday, Aug. 31.

In her monthly update, Superintendent Brenda Longshore said one big step in moving forward during the pandemic is the reopening of fall sports and extracurricular activities.

Practice for cheerleading, school sports and band begins Monday, she said. Competition start dates vary by the sport.

Bowling, cross country, golf, swimming and volleyball may begin competitions on Sept. 12.

Varsity football will begin competing on Sept. 18 and junior varsity football will begin on Sept. 24, Longshore said.

The athletic task force meets regularly and has developed procedures relating to practices and competitions, she said. Their recommendations will be presented to the School Board on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The board workshop is at 4 p.m. with the school board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

The public is welcome to come to both meetings in the boardroom at the district office, Longshore said.

School Board Member Isaac Durrance said he wants to make sure the district has done its due diligence to offer the highest safety possible.

He is looking forward to seeing the recommendations of the athletic task force.

“I know our community and our kids are certainly excited about the opportunity to play as long as we are doing it in the safest way possible,” Durrance said.

School Board Member Bill Brantley said safety is the first priority and then getting the kids back on the field for participation in sports.

The decisions to be considered in the Return to Athletics Plan include: the capacity for spectators, masks (if they will be required), temperature checks, social distancing of athletes, seating design for spectators, packaged food at concessions, seating for transportation and locker rooms.

The Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors voted Aug. 14 to allow member schools to begin fall sports on Aug. 24.

The Highlands County District decided to start sports practices a week later for more time to see how things go at the start of school year.

According to the option approved by the State Athletic Board, schools would not have a minimum contest limit to be eligible for State Series play and that schools may opt out of the State Series by Sept. 18 with the ability to form their own regional schedule upon approval from the FHSAA.

The Board also voted to require all coaches to view the National Federation of State High School Associations’ course “COVID-19 for Coaches and Administrators” and to make a COVID waiver form available to schools.

Highlands adds 14 COVID-19 cases, 2 more deaths

SEBRING — Highlands County had two more deaths listed in the latest daily COVID-19 update bringing the county’s total who have passed during the pandemic to 62.

With 14 more virus cases, according to the Florida Department of Health, Highlands has had a total of 1,795 cases.

Statewide there were 3,815 new coronavirus cases in the latest daily update from the Florida Department of Health and 89 more deaths, which is the smallest daily increase in resident deaths since June 10.

There have been a total of 615,806 cases of COVID-19 in Florida.

A total of 10,957 Florida residents have died due to the virus over the course of the pandemic. There have been 142 non-resident deaths in Florida.

The previous day’s testing results show that among the 269 tests in Highlands 5.2% were positive. Hardee County tested 57 and Glades County 2 with no new cases for both counties.

Okeechobee had 206 test results on Thursday of which 4.37% were positive.

DeSoto had 88 test results with 10.23% positive and Hendry County had 11.11% positive from 36 tests.

Statewide among the 67,578 test results on Thursday 5.7% were positive.

Lafayette County, in north Florida, has the most cases per capita in the state with 1,184 cases with a population of 8,744, which means 13.5% of the population has been infected.

Highlands County has had 1.75% of its residents infected with COVID-19, according to the latest data on the Florida Department of Heath’s rate map.

The Highlands cases include 839 male cases and 955 female cases with a median age of 47.

Statewide there have been 297,113 male cases and 314,387 female case with a median age of 41.

Nationwide there have been 5,878,338 virus cases and 181,022 deaths.

Worldwide there have been 24,507,036 cases with 832,748 deaths.