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COVID infections, deaths here nearly double in 2 weeks
week of August 6, 2020

As Florida’s statewide tally of COVID-19 cases topped the half-million mark, Indian River County added 700 cases in the past two weeks for a 41 percent increase during that time. Local deaths have nearly doubled, rising from 25 to 48 over the past 14 days, with the virus still spreading among the most vulnerable in the county’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Hospitalizations spiked back up to 37 on Friday, stretching staff, but Cleveland Clinic officials say the hospital still has capacity to handle the current caseload. Barrier island cases have risen steadily, but not as rapidly as the rest of the county, up 18 percent from 76 cases two weeks ago to 90 cases as we started the week. Five months into Florida’s COVID crisis, our local government officials still exhibit no sense of urgency. Neither the Board of County Commissioners nor the Vero Beach City Council has the gumption to vote through anything approaching a facemask mandate. READ FULL STORY

When the nursing home finally called: ‘Whatever happened with your dad?’
week of August 6, 2020

For weeks, Jonathan MacGown got regular updates via robocalls from Vero’s Sea Breeze Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, where his 98-year-old father was a patient: We have no COVID-19 cases. “They were calling regularly from a Chicago number,” MacGown said. “It was like, look how great we’re doing.” Then came an actual voice call saying Sea Breeze had its first case. A staff member had tested positive. That call was on June 22. Less than three weeks later, on July 11, Sea Breeze sent three residents to the hospital. One was MacGown’s father, Philip. But no one from the facility bothered to call Jonathan MacGown to tell him his father had tested positive and was being sent to the hospital. MacGown got word of his father’s condition and hospitalization from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. “A doctor called and said: ‘Your dad’s here, he’s got COVID-19 and he’s on a ventilator. He’s probably not going to make it,’” MacGown recalled. “I got no calls from Sea Breeze.” READ FULL STORY

Do summer camp experiences provide model for school?
week of August 6, 2020

No masks and no social distancing. That was the mantra at Life for Youth Camp this summer. Despite that, not one of the estimated 450 weekly campers or 40 counselors at the Christian sleepover and day camp came down with COVID-19, according to camp leaders. Likewise, at Leisure Square, where masks were required by mandate as a city-owned building, there were no COVID-19 cases during a month of day camps, leaders said. But at least two other summer camps that required masks and adhered to social distancing rules did see cases, though leaders said the outbreaks were quickly contained by the camps’ own contact tracing and isolation. The success of local camps could be seen a positive model for school re-openings but camps in other places call that into question. Just as camps in Indian River County were wrapping up for the summer, proud of having kept coronavirus out – or at least under control – a CDC report released Friday revealed a summer camp in Georgia saw 260 cases in nine days of operation. READ FULL STORY

Hurricane shelters for pandemic era get a light test
week of August 6, 2020

Even during a typical hurricane season, a county-operated emergency shelter is generally an absolute last resort. But now with COVID-19 in the mix, everyone who can hunker down elsewhere obviously should. Hurricane Isaias caught some people off guard, so special medical needs, economic hardship or lack of transportation left some families with few options. Three shelters opened for the weekend in Indian River County, with safeguards upon entry, and people given plenty of space to spread out in each facility. Nineteen residents and two caregivers utilized the special needs shelter. Zero residents went to the pet friendly shelter. Sixteen residents turned up at the general population shelter. The county’s $44,000 automated no-touch thermometer system had not been delivered yet, so school district personnel staffing the shelters took everyone’s temperature with hand-held no-touch thermometers. “I am not aware of any issues related to checking temperatures of those people who arrived at the shelters. I am sure the small number of people who actually utilized the shelters this weekend helped on that front,” said county spokesman Brian Sullivan. READ FULL STORY

Cleveland Clinic Indian River moves up in rank among Florida hospitals
week of August 6, 2020

It was a tie for 19th place, but Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital will happily take its latest ranking from U.S. News Best Hospitals in Florida list. The Vero hospital was ranked 27th in the state last year so it has moved up significantly. “The entire team at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has been working diligently to provide high-quality care to the community we serve,” said Dr Greg Rosencrance, the hospital’s president, who called the ranking “an honor.” “It is truly a confirmation of all the effort and focus by our caregivers to provide ‘patients first’ care.” Cleveland Clinic’s flagship hospital in Cleveland ranked second best in the nation, up from fourth best last year. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. took the top spot for the fifth year with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore remaining in third place. The Florida rankings, from information that predates the COVID-19 pandemic, put Indian River alongside Boca Raton Regional Hospital, a well-regarded, formerly independent hospital taken over by Baptist Health a year ago. READ FULL STORY

$25 million sale breaks record for island residences
week of August 6, 2020

The largest house on the barrier island was sold to a California buyer for $25 million last week, the highest price ever paid for a piece of residential real estate in Indian River County. The 40,800-square-foot compound at 1940 S. A1A in the Estate Section had been on the market for two and a half years, listed at $29.9 million. It went under contract on June 27 and closed on July 30. Island broker Jim DiMarzo, who represented the buyer in the transaction, says this is the third family from California he has helped relocate to Vero in the past year. Though DiMarzo declined to identify the buyer, he says the purchaser has a very large family and “will use definitely the whole house.” The seller is listed in property records as Sunrise Design LLC., and Cindy O’ Dare and Richard Boga of Premier Estate Properties were the listing agents. O’Dare says the record-breaking sale is part of a trend, with buyers “fleeing the big city” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. READ FULL STORY

A1A road project a traffic nightmare – so wait until season
week of August 6, 2020

Traffic congestion on A1A caused by the Florida Department of Transportation’s $6.7 million widening and resurfacing project in Indian River Shores has been more of a nightmare than expected for barrier island motorists – and will likely get worse when seasonal residents return. There have been mile-long backups spawned by lane closures, sudden stops to allow left turns across oncoming traffic, and frustrated motorists opting to drive illegally on grassy shoulders to avoid further delays. Worse, some drivers have become so confused by temporary road markings that they found themselves going the wrong way in a one-way lane. “Have we gotten complaints? Absolutely,” Indian River Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell said Friday. “At first, it was mayhem out there. The work crews were holding up traffic until there was a mile-long backup, then they’d let a mile of traffic go through, which created mile-long backups in the other direction. “They’ve now changed their flag people, and the traffic flow has gotten a little bit better,” he added. “They’ve also made it easier to identify the lanes, so we don’t have as many wrong-way drivers. But it was dicey for a while. READ FULL STORY

Scaled-down riverfront plan capitalizes on Vero’s natural assets
week of August 6, 2020

More green space and outdoor dining, plus low-density cabin rentals, proved to be crowd pleasers as Vero’s steering committee approved a re-engineered plan for the Centennial Place riverfront that takes new, post-COVID realities into account. The committee, which includes the City Council, voted almost unanimously to approve the alternate plan, which Vice Mayor Laura Moss informally dubbed the “Old Florida Plan” due to its scaled-down nature, casual recreational opportunities and wide-open vistas. The plan presented by architect Andres Duany of DPZ CoDesign leaves the Big Blue power plant building in place in hopes of someday attracting a major hotel and conference center, but in the meantime plots out rental cabins in an oval around a large swimming pool that would be accessible to the public as well as to guests. “It’s a very conservative plan,” Duany told the committee, saying that the site is a natural winner in an age when sunshine and sea breezes are major assets that make people more comfortable going out in public as the coronavirus continues to circulate. The venue, as configured, would be unique to Vero. READ FULL STORY

EEOC closes probe of allegations of racial discrimination in County Tax Collector’s Office
week of August 6, 2020

Unable to uncover enough evidence to take action, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has closed its investigation into allegations of racial discrimination against County Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan. At the same time, the EEOC issued Ketonya Curtis – a former Sebastian branch office supervisor who resigned from the Tax Collector’s Office in April 2019 – a requested “Notice of Right to Sue,” which gives her 90 days to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit against Jordan’s agency in federal court. Curtis said last week she was “looking forward to taking legal action,” but she needed to raise enough money to pay her Altamonte Springs-based attorney, Iyada Jackson, who represented her when she filed her complaint with the EEOC in July 2019. Jordan, who is seeking re-election in the Republican primary later this month, responded to the EEOC’s action in a statement issued through Vero Beach attorney Robert Nall, legal counsel for the Tax Collector’s Office: “The EEOC concluded their investigation and announced a ‘termination of process.’ This means that EEOC has investigated and found it was not worthy of moving forward on the complainant’s behalf. The former employee reserves the right to sue in a court of law, but it will be of her own accord and expense.” READ FULL STORY

57 cases of COVID-19 – and 5 deaths – at Sea Breeze
week of July 30, 2020

The wave of coronavirus infections swamping Indian River County senior care facilities appeared to have crested this past week. Three nursing homes that consistently rank at the bottom of Medicare’s Star ratings – Sea Breeze Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Consulate Health Care and Palm Garden – as of Monday reported a combined total of 60 patients and 32 staff members currently infected with COVID-19. The largest publicly reported outbreak in the county was at Sea Breeze, which peaked on Friday with 39 active cases among residents and 18 infected staff members. Five of those infected at Sea Breeze died. “We have opened up a COVID unit so we can take care of our patients here, and we are setting up something with Cleveland Clinic when people are getting sick enough that we can’t manage them,” said Sea Breeze’s director of nursing, Steven Pendleton. “It’s going to be the new normal around here,” said Pendleton, an RN for the past 37 years who joined the staff of Sea Breeze only recently. “None of us have ever dealt with this before. We’re doing the best we can to take care of our patients.” READ FULL STORY

County buys 20 thermometers for $2,200 each
week of July 30, 2020

For the past couple of months, as COVID-19 infections here have climbed week after week to an average of 55 new cases a day – with 10 more local residents aged 38 to 95 dying last week from complications of the virus – the Vero Beach City Council and the Indian River County Commission have done next to nothing. We thought that was as bad as it could get. Now we almost want to beg them to just go back to doing nothing. Indian River County got a few million dollars in CARES Act money and they needed to figure out what to spend it on. Lo and behold, they found some $2,200 thermometers to buy to protect themselves from sick people potentially coming into county buildings to take care of business or attend a meeting. More than $44,000 spent on no-touch thermometers!! Many businesses or families have probably purchased these gadgets in recent months. How much did you pay for yours? READ FULL STORY

Community group advocates for mask-wearing during pandemic
week of July 30, 2020

Vero resident Tess Whelan seems to have a better sense than local governments what side of the mask debate most county residents come down on. The group she founded, Mask Wearing Establishments Indian River County, saw a surge in new members after County Commissioners Bob Solari, Joe Flescher and Tim Zorc last week formed a 3-2 majority to vote down an ordinance making masks mandatory after a handful of anti-maskers showed up at commission chambers. “The day the county commissioners voted down the mask mandate, we grew by 600, which is exciting because it’s a bipartisan group,” said Whelan, noting her embarrassment that Indian River County had garnered national attention as the first county to vote down a mask mandate. The Vero Beach City Council last week declined even to vote on the issue. The lack of local government action came a week after U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said that if all Americans wore a mask, the COVID-19 pandemic could be brought under control in weeks. READ FULL STORY

Retired Vero fighter pilot aims to bring down Congressman Posey
week of July 30, 2020

Even though he is a political newcomer, Vero Beach’s Scott Caine brings impressive credentials to his run for Congress as he tries to knock off longtime U.S. Rep. Bill Posey in the upcoming Republican primary. He’s a staunch conservative who supports a balanced budget and term limits, and proudly identifies himself as pro-gun and pro-life. He’s also a retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot whose 30 years of military service included multiple combat missions and several command-level assignments. As the Orlando Sentinel wrote in endorsing the Vero Beach High School graduate in his party’s August primary for the 8th Congressional District seat: “Caine checks a lot of boxes …” And Caine’s campaign has deposited a lot of checks: He has raised more than $160,000 since he announced his candidacy in April – during a worsening coronavirus pandemic – with 90 percent of that money coming from individual donors. So, you can’t blame him for being optimistic about his chances, even against an entrenched incumbent with lots of cash. READ FULL STORY

Conceptual plan for less ambitious version of Centennial Place to be unveiled Friday
week of July 30, 2020

Vero Beach residents who want to know the final details of the riverfront redevelopment plan they will be voting up or down in November should tune in at 10:30 a.m. Friday as the latest plan is discussed. The discussion will be aired on Municipal Channel 13 and will be live streamed at Those who cannot attend in person can submit comments and questions to the City Council before and during the meeting by going to the website and searching for “public comment.” A fill-in form is available on the Forms page. The City Council voted last week to move forward with a Nov. 3 referendum on the conceptual plan, which if approved would give Vero officials the authority to lease portions of the power plant site protected under the city charter. After more than a year of planning, a carefully crafted, 75-word ballot item will pose a simple and descriptive choice to voters, who will then vote yes or no, to approve or derail the proposal. What’s built must be substantially similar to the plan approved by council. READ FULL STORY

New owner plans to take Fairlane Harbor mobile home community to ‘the next level’
week of July 30, 2020

Regardless of what Vero Beach officials decide to do with the city’s sewage treatment plant, Fairlane Harbor will remain a mobile home community for the foreseeable future, the new owners of the lagoon-front property said last week. In fact, a representative of the Virginia-based real-estate investment firm that purchased Fairlane Harbor from Vero Beach’s Stawara family for $36 million earlier this month said his group is preparing to embark on a series of upgrades, additions and other improvements to the 31-acre, 232-lot community, which adjoins the sewer plant property. “When Frank Stawara bought this property 50 years ago, his original vision was to develop and build an affordable, 55-and-over, coastal-living, mobile-home community for Vero Beach,” said Bob Miller, chief executive officer of MHM Communities, which partnered with Capital Square Realty Advisors to purchase and operate Fairlane Harbor. “We’re going to take it to the next level,” he added. “Our plan is to make everything nicer and better and, in some cases, newer. And when we’re finished, we’ll be proud to have anyone in Vero Beach drive through, knowing they’ll be impressed.” READ FULL STORY

Community needs assessment finds many families struggling
week of July 30, 2020

A year-long assessment of human need in Indian River County has found a huge gap between family income and the cost of living for many families, and concluded that the cost of daycare during the pandemic is a time bomb that could tip some families into homelessness. The assessment also found that many older residents, especially women, are living in or near poverty, often in squalid, substandard housing. It was in June last year that several Indian River County funding organizations, along with government and community leaders, began compiling a comprehensive Indian River County Community Needs Assessment – the first of its kind since 2008. The purpose was to identify unmet needs and community strengths in five focus areas: services for children, economic opportunity and employment, health, housing and seniors. The report was completed in June 2020 and, while the data collected was primarily pre-pandemic, it highlights problem areas likely to worsen due to the pandemic. “COVID has accelerated the need and increased the volume of people that are in need right now,” says Jeff Pickering, Indian River Community Foundation president/CEO, who envisions updates to the report as needed. READ FULL STORY

Confederate flag ban signals new era for county schools
week of July 30, 2020

The school district last week banned display of the confederate flag on campus and held its first Equity in Action conference as part of the new superintendent’s crusade to boost the performance of African-American students. In addition to banning the confederate flag at school events and instituting more inclusive policies, Superintendent David Moore said the district will update disciplinary procedures to minimize out-of-school suspensions and coach unruly students to behave. “I promise you I will make the difficult decisions to stand in a righteous place with equity,” Moore said during the conference at Storm Grove Middle School. At the Friday conference, two African-American high school students and a recent graduate told an audience of more than 100 attendees they felt excluded from academic programs and extracurricular activities. The students also described feeling fear and confusion when white Vero Beach High School students displayed the confederate flag on their attire on campus or on their vehicles with impunity. The school district has been under a federal desegregation order since 1967 and was instructed by a federal judge in January to intensify efforts to integrate and bring greater equity to the schools. READ FULL STORY

COVID-19 cases soar, but fewer are hospitalized
week of July 23, 2020

Indian River County had one major positive development this week – our current COVID-19 hospitalizations are way down, from 35 to a more manageable 21 patients. The real-time, daily count of how many patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 is a hugely important number because just one week ago that number was stretching the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital very thin. Caring for pandemic patients is not so much a matter of bed space or equipment; the COVID unit requires significantly more staffing for the same number of patients. “We have increased nurse staffing by 30 percent in our COVID units, which allows us to reduce the number of patients assigned to each nurse in both the ICU and non-ICU settings,” said hospital spokesperson Scott Samples. “We have also increased nursing supervision in the COVID units to ensure any needs that arise can be addressed in a timely manner. We have seen an increase in support staffing as well. READ FULL STORY

With COVID-19 surging, any return to classrooms postponed by two weeks
week of July 23, 2020

Indian River County’s 17,000 public school students will now have another two weeks off before returning to class, whether they choose to attend in person or at home via computer. Rising COVID-19 infection rates prompted Schools Superintendent David Moore to push back the reopening date to Aug. 24 to allow more time for planning and preparations. “We cannot rush an opening of schools,” Moore said Monday during a Facebook Live presentation. “We cannot use children as an experiment. “Their instruction is too valuable, it is too important. We need to get this right on Day One.” There has been a steady upward trend in new COVID-19 cases in Indian River County during the past 45 days, records show. An additional 390 people test tested positive for COVID-19 in the county in the past week, a 31 percent increase, bringing the total to 1,649 cases. The virus has killed 25 people in Indian River County and hospitalized 113 others. READ FULL STORY

Getting a swab stuck up my nose at the Indian River County fairgrounds
week of July 23, 2020

I’ve attended all sorts of events at the Indian River County Fairgrounds over the years, but a week ago I headed to one of my favorite venues not to enjoy a soccer game, antique show, canine agility trial, or the iconic Firefighters Fair – but to have a cotton swab stuck up my nose. When I pulled up to the check-in line at about 8:15 a.m., there were 100 or so cars and pick-ups ahead of me queueing for drive-through coronavirus testing, administered by Treasure Coast Community Health. A friendly attendant was handing everyone a paper explaining how to get online test results after the test, along with a colorful brochure featuring a duck wearing sunglasses. Pointing to the back of the line, a few hundred yards across the field, the man said cheerfully, “Just follow that car. Sorry about the wait.” READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach postal employee tests positive for COVID-19
week of July 23, 2020

Getting stuck in a long line at the post office used to just be a pain in the neck, but in the age of COVID-19, it could be a bit risky as the virus has made its way to the main Vero postal hub in the 1500 block of U.S. 1. “The U.S. Postal Service has learned that an employee at the Vero Beach Main Post Office tested positive for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” said spokesman David Walton on Friday. “We are in the process of reaching out to the local public health office and will follow the guidance they provide. “We believe the risk is low for employees who work at the Vero Beach Main Post Office, but we will keep our employees apprised as new information and guidance becomes available.” The postal service did not release this information proactively, but confirmed it after a reader tipped off Vero Beach 32963 reporters. Walton would not elaborate beyond the confirmation, so it’s unknown if the employee worked in close contact with customers at the counter, sorting in the back or delivering mail. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach restaurants struggling to survive the pandemic
week of July 23, 2020

Four months into the coronavirus pandemic, local restaurateurs are experiencing a slowdown that greatly exceeds Vero’s customary summer dining doldrums. With an uptick in guests over the 4th of July weekend, many thought things were on their way back to a normal Vero summer. But a recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases has put a damper on dining out even more than the deluge of summer thunderstorms. Things were going well when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced restaurants could open with 50 percent capacity in Phase II of the state’s reopening plan, says Dario Bordoli, proprietor of Trattoria Dario. Over Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the 4th of July weekend, Bordoli says he and his staff were so busy they had to stop taking to-go orders to keep up. “Business was good for summertime. Now, in the last 10 days, business has slowed down. So far, we have been lucky. We haven’t gotten sick. We’re trying to stay healthy and take care of the people who come in,” says Bordoli. READ FULL STORY

Fairlane Harbor mobile home park sold for $36 million
week of July 23, 2020

A half century after Frank Stawara Sr. purchased the riverfront land that became the Fairlane Harbor mobile home community for a price believed to be less than $100,000, he and his family have sold the property to a Virginia-based real estate investment firm for $36 million. Speculation about the future of Fairlane Harbor and its 232 home sites has been rampant since the Vero Beach City Council voted earlier this year to move the neighboring sewage-treatment plant off the Indian River Lagoon and utilize the property as part of a new waterfront dining and entertainment complex. The Stawaras, who acquired the 31-acre parcel in 1969, sold it earlier this month to Capital Square Realty Advisors, a firm that specializes in tax-advantaged real estate investments, according to the Indian River County Property Appraiser’s Office. Frank Stawara could not be reached for comment, but his son, Joey, who has been managing Fairlane Harbor’s operations, called selling the property a “bittersweet experience” in an email relayed to Vero Beach 32963 through an attorney. READ FULL STORY

County faces loss of $17 million for repairing beaches
week of July 23, 2020

Indian River County has only about half the property owner agreements it needs by Oct. 1 to move forward with repairs to 9 miles of hurricane-eroded beaches on the barrier island. If that deadline isn’t met, the county could lose as much as $17 million in state and federal grants, and be set back years in its beach replenishment program. County officials say they are on track to get the needed signatures, but the North Beach Civic Association is worried. Fearful of seeing two major beach repair projects stymied, the group is waging a publicity blitz aimed at securing easements from private property owners needed to complete beach renourishment. Civic Association President Tuck Ferrell says he and his members have sent an email blast to 630 beach property owners, and plan to go door to door if necessary, to secure easement agreements. “We’re really interested in getting the project done,” Ferrell said. “It protects the shoreline and it protects people's homes. If a storm washes inland, it could really do some damage if we don't have the barrier island dune. Without good dune protection, insurance rates will go up. The turtles won’t have a place to nest. Having a dune is critical.” READ FULL STORY

Marina expansion moves ahead despite objections by Moss
week of July 23, 2020

Vice Mayor Laura Moss thinks Vero Beach should throttle back on its ambitious, $30 million marina redevelopment plan because it was envisioned in a pre-COVID-19 economy, and portions of the plan were discussed and approved while city residents were under a stay-at-home order. If fully implemented, the expansion would expand the marina from its current capacity of 173 vessels to 236 vessels, plus provide dry storage space for another 29 vessels, along with improved parking and amenities for marina customers. The marina improvements came up last Thursday as part of the City Council’s workshop on its 2020-21 operating budget. When Marina Director Sean Collins got up to talk about the municipal marina’s budget, Moss questioned why the city should spend more money designing and permitting the multi-phase revamp and expansion in the current state of economic uncertainty. Moss was the sole vote against moving forward with the Marina Master Plan on March 17, saying she wanted to bring the matter back when the public would have the opportunity to comment. READ FULL STORY

County moves on mandatory masks but Vero resists
week of July 16, 2020

Five more deaths, plus the doubling of confirmed COVID-19 infections over the past two weeks to a total of nearly 1,300 cases in Indian River County, may be what it finally took to force the County Commissioners Tuesday to take up a sensible proposal for mandatory face masks. If the surging case counts and deaths weren’t enough to persuade county and city leaders that it was time to show some leadership, a brand-new state report Monday on real-time COVID-19 hospitalizations showed that at press time, 34 people were hospitalized here with the virus. Never before in the coronavirus pandemic have we seen this many people so seriously ill from COVID-19 in our community. But despite all this, the County Commission rejected the mandatory mask ordinance on a 3 to 2 vote. READ FULL STORY

Long-term care’s lonely lockdown extended to Sept. 5
week of July 16, 2020

As Florida’s governor focuses on reopening schools, he has also quietly extended the ban on visitors to long-term care centers until Sept. 5. The lockdown means visits from friends and family continue to be banned, and residents are not allowed to take field trips outside of the facility. “The new ruling is disappointing, but after what we’ve been through, we support that decision,” said Don Wright, chairman of the board of the Senior Resource Association and owner of Rosewood Manor, a 50-bed assisted living facility that exploded with more than 20 cases of COVID-19 after results of mass testing never made it back to the care home. “There is no doubt: These people are vulnerable,” Wright said. The move to extend the long-term care lockdown came with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order last Tuesday continuing the state of emergency in Florida for another 60 days. While all the talk lately has been of young people getting COVID-19, case numbers have been rapidly rising statewide in senior care facilities, up 70 percent in just two weeks. READ FULL STORY

Kids and COVID-19: Pediatricians not sure what lies ahead if schools reopen
week of July 16, 2020

Children have been mostly out of circulation since March – no school, no play dates, no birthday parties, no visiting grandparents – and only 1 percent of Indian River County’s youngest residents have been tested for the novel coronavirus, so pediatricians like Dr. Karen Westberry aren’t quite sure what to expect when schools reopen in less than a month. Normally, Westberry said, the separate sick-kid treatment areas at Nemours Children’s Primary Care in Vero Beach begin to fill up about two weeks after school resumes in August. That’s when all the garden-variety maladies are swapped and spread as kids come together after being apart all summer. Whether the novel coronavirus will spread like this in the initial weeks of school and wreak havoc in the greater community is the big question. Government officials say the risk of COVID-19 to kids is “extremely low” because so far, the statistics show very few children wind up hospitalized or dead from the virus. To date, only four Florida children have died from complications of COVID-19. Based upon that – and the need for parents to get back to work – schools have been mandated to open in August. READ FULL STORY

Schools say most kids here will return to their classrooms in August
week of July 16, 2020

Nearly 90 percent of Indian River County’s 17,000 students are expected to return to their classrooms on Aug. 10 despite the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, while the other 10 percent opt for virtual schooling, according to school officials. Free cloth face coverings and disposable face masks will be provided to all students, Schools Superintendent David Moore said Friday while presenting the latest plans for reopening schools. “Face coverings should be worn when social distancing is not possible,” Moore said during a July 10 Facebook live presentation. Teachers will be equipped with plastic face shields so they can communicate safely and effectively with students, Moore said. The first eight days of the school year will be used to teach students the new health and safety procedures, monitor how the new system is working and make adjustments as problems arise, Moore said. A team of local pediatricians was scheduled to meet with school district officials Wednesday to critique the procedures for handling students who present COVID-19 symptoms, Moore said. READ FULL STORY

Island hotels having surprisingly good summer despite pandemic
week of July 16, 2020

From South Beach to Ocean Drive, island hotels and timeshare resorts are having a surprisingly good summer, all things considered, with busy weekends and overall business close to the benchmark set in 2019 at most establishments. Business was way off in March and April but rebounded in May and June, hoteliers say, a trend that is continuing in July, with Florida residents filling rooms despite an increase in coronavirus cases here in recent weeks. Chad Olson, Costa d’Este general manager, notes an interesting dynamic about activity at his hotel this summer. While overall bookings are on pace with last year, food and beverage spending is up substantially, which he credits to people wanting to get out of the house. “They’re dining, they’re eating. They’re feeling comfortable. If they’re going to travel right now, people want to be outdoors. They want to be at the beach,” he adds. Olson says Costa’s summertime guests typically are Florida residents and even more so this year when many people are hesitant about air travel. Many guests are booking at the last minute, which helps the hotel. READ FULL STORY

New Sebastian hospital wing nears completion at critical time
week of July 16, 2020

Two years past its original announced completion date, Sebastian River Medical Center is close to finishing up a significant expansion project. Initiated by its former owner in August 2016, the 90,000-square-foot expansion will add hospital beds to the county’s total tally at a potentially critical time – even if it opens up patient rooms in phases, as officials have said is the plan. “It is our responsibility to grow with the community,” said Daniel Knell, president of Steward Health Care’s Florida market. In a statement, Steward called the project “completed,” though it has only a temporary certificate of occupancy and has not cleared final inspection with the state agency that oversees hospital construction projects. Neither the hospital nor Steward would clarify the status of the project or offer an opening date. Building officials say the hospital is claiming the pandemic is behind the push to open, even though Sebastian River as a rule has not been admitting COVID-19 patients. READ FULL STORY

Vero will rely on reserves to meet city’s budget needs
week of July 16, 2020

Every municipal budget in the Florida is in flux as the local-share numbers for sales tax and gas tax receipts diminished by COVID-19 are due out by Friday, but it looks like the City of Vero Beach will be able to afford all the essentials, plus salary increases and eight additional employees in October without a tax rate hike – if the City Council balances the $25.2 million budget using its rainy-day fund. State revenue sharing plus the local-option gas and sales taxes amount to about $3.6 million, or 14 percent of the city’s general fund budget, according to City Manager Monte Falls and Finance Director Cindy Lawson. Those receipts for March to date are expected to take a hit, but how much was not known when the first draft of the budget was finalized in preparation for two days of budget workshops this Wednesday and Thursday. READ FULL STORY

County projects $5.5 million hit to revenue but no cut in services
week of July 16, 2020

The economic damage suffered locally from the coronavirus pandemic has put a noticeable dent in the county’s coffers. Even though official budget numbers aren’t out yet, county officials project a loss of at least $5.5 million in receipts – from local taxes, state revenue sharing and various fees, including impact fees for new construction – for the current fiscal year because of the COVID-19 crisis, which prompted a six-week shutdown of non-essential businesses in March and April. However, County Administrator Jason Brown said last week no reduction in services is planned. “It’s a significant loss, but we’ve been tightening our belts and cutting costs where we can, and we also have reserve funds in hand to cover the rest, so we’ll be able to absorb it,” Brown said, adding that he has imposed a limited hiring freeze and staff travel ban to reduce spending. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach High holds unique graduation for class of 2020
week of July 16, 2020

Vero Beach High School seniors who persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic were rewarded with unique dual graduation ceremonies last Friday at Billy Livings Field. Several hundred members of the Fighting Indians class of 2020 spread out in the stands for a “seniors only” graduation ceremony Friday morning featuring the traditional speeches and diploma procession with women wearing white caps and gowns and men wearing red ones. Friday evening, after a brief rain delay, hundreds of graduates participated in a drive-through ceremony, rolling up to the stage in the middle of the football field for another diploma walk while friends and family in vehicles cheered and took photos. Several seniors told Vero Beach 32963 said they were glad to have a chance to see their classmates one last time in the morning and celebrate with family and friends in the evening. READ FULL STORY