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‘Please’ hasn’t worked; time for ‘Mandatory’
week of June 25, 2020

A strong majority of non-governmental leaders and other prominent members of our community vehemently disagree with public officials on whether it should be mandatory to wear masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19. Monday morning, this newspaper’s staff started making calls and sending emails asking people whether the time has come – the surge acute enough, the anxiety sufficiently intolerable – to mandate the wearing of masks in public. In short order, the answers were streaming in, faster than we could add them to this story. An overwhelming majority said “Yes.” Dr. Greg Rosencrance, president of Cleveland Clinic Indian River, and Dr. Ralph Turner, hospital COO, both support mandatory masks in public, as does the chairwoman of the Hospital District, Marybeth Cunningham. Retired nurse Patricia Habraken, who worked for many years at what was then Indian River Medical Center, strongly supports a mask mandate. “It’s mostly in the grocery store where I see people not wearing them,” she said. “If a sneeze comes on, and you’re infected, then it’s out there.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases nearly double in just seven days
week of June 25, 2020

The past week was the one Vero Beach and the barrier island hoped we’d never see, with the number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus nearly doubling in seven days and cases on the island rising from 13 to 24. If this is not our peak, we may be in trouble. As we go to press, 409 people had tested positive, and at the rate we’re going that number could be close to 500 by the time you retrieve this paper from your mailboxes. Miranda Hawker, director of the Indian River County Health Department, took a more somber tone in her weekly public address last Friday, in the face of rampant noncompliance with basic, commonsense protective measures across the county as cases mount. Hawker almost begged locals to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and, if possible, to just stay home or drastically limit their travels as COVID-19 spreads through our community. “The healthier we can keep our county, the less people we have in the hospital and the less people will die.” READ FULL STORY


Teachers and pupils to be masked when public schools reopen Aug. 10
week of June 25, 2020

School Superintendent David Moore will unveil plans Friday for reopening Indian River County public schools on Aug. 10, including reducing class sizes and promoting virtual learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19. One of the key points he told Vero Beach 32963 he now intends to announce is that masks will be mandatory at schools for teachers, staff and students. Moore’s presentation on the School District’s Facebook page starting at 1 p.m., Friday will include short videos showing new health and safety measures put in place on school campuses districtwide. Roughly half the 3,000 parents who responded to a recent survey want to send their children back to school every day under federal Center for Disease Control guidelines, Moore said. “It tells us there’s not an overwhelming feeling in terms of we’re ready to go back,” Moore said about the survey results. “Parents want kids to go back to school, but not at the jeopardy of their safety.” READ FULL STORY


Local preschool closes after 3-year-old tests positive for COVID-19
week of June 25, 2020

Kendall Academy Preschool Center, which had a 3-year-old student test positive for COVID-19 on June 12, closed Monday for two weeks because of the increase in new cases in Indian River County. “The decision to close is because of the recent spike in the numbers of daily new cases this past week,” Kendall Academy Chief Operating Officer Janel Blanco said. “The numbers have gone up so much that we decided to close the school for two weeks and just do virtual learning,” Blanco said. “Because of the community spread that is occurring, we do not want to place the children of Kendall Academy at risk unnecessarily.” The 3-year-old boy who tested positive for the virus “is safe at home and self-quarantined,” Blanco said. No other information will be disclosed about the boy to protect the family’s privacy. “It’s important that the child that tested positive did not enter the school after his temperature was checked,” Blanco said. “Since he had a high temperature, we asked him to go home and then he got tested.” READ FULL STORY


John’s Island service group funds attorney to help those facing eviction or foreclosure
week of June 25, 2020

John’s Island Community Service League is taking action to help county residents facing eviction or foreclosure due to COVID-19-related job losses or other disruptions, leading a collaborative effort called the HEART Program – Housing Emergency Advocacy Response Team – that will roll July 1. This comes on top of the group’s earlier response to pandemic-related economic problems. When the coronavirus began shutting businesses down, the League immediately stepped in and donated $250,000 to the United Way COVID-19 Fund – and successfully challenged other funders to contribute an additional $200,000 – to help newly unemployed or furloughed residents meet such basic needs as rent, utilities and food. For the new program, JICSL will provide $150,000 to fund a dedicated legal aid attorney at the Florida Rural Legal Services to assist Indian River County residents in danger of losing their homes. FRLS has similar programs in Martin, St. Lucie and other counties. READ FULL STORY


Plan for riverfront development moves step closer to reality
week of June 25, 2020

The city is one step closer to redeveloping Vero’s riverfront into a hub of commercial and recreational activity. The Three Corners Steering Committee, created last year by the city council to oversee the riverfront planning process, settled last week on a conceptual plan that, for now at least, retains the Big Blue power plant building – plus two massive cement water tanks behind the sewer plant. For those involved in the decade-long effort to sell Vero electric to Florida Power & Light who would like to see all remnants of the electric and sewer utilities removed from the riverfront, the effort to repurpose these structures might not sit well at first. But this broader vision for the riverfront development is not steeped in wiping the slate clean from old political squabbles but rather on how generations to come want to take what’s special about Vero’s 100-plus-year history and build something beautiful with it – for the next hundred years. The goal is not only to draw tourists and give retirees something else to do, but also to create an attraction that will make high school and college kids want to stay in Vero, or at least maybe return to Vero with their college degrees and work experience when they are ready to settle down and start a family. READ FULL STORY


Vero lifeguard rescues man caught in surf in Palm Beach
week of June 25, 2020

It was just another day at the beach for several Vero Beach lifeguards who, on their day off, headed to West Palm Beach with plans to snorkel Blue Heron Bridge – a popular dive spot by the bridge that connects the mainland to Singer Island, where the water often is Key West clear. Fortunately, for one elderly beachgoer, things didn’t quite go as planned for the four Vero Beach friends. “When we got down there, the water was murky,” said Vincent Valentino, a Vero Beach lifeguard lieutenant. “A local lifeguard suggested we check out the beach at Palm Beach Shores Resort until the water cleared up.” They did, switching form snorkels to surf boards. After surfing for a while, Valentino headed up to the beach to get some water. Out of habit he scanned the beach while taking a break and noticed an older couple struggling to get out of the water. “There was a pretty good shore break. It’s steep, and the sand is really soft,” Valentino said. “They were out about 8 feet. He would stand up, get hit by a wave and get knocked back down.” READ FULL STORY


Since lockdown eased, alarming COVID-19 surge
week of June 18, 2020

Last week, Vero Beach – which generally only makes it into the national press in stories about leading places to retire – was labeled by the New York Times a “rising hot spot” for COVID-19. On a map accompanying a story about a surge in nouvelle coronavirus cases in Florida and Texas, Indian River County stood out for nearly doubling the number of people who tested positive in the past two weeks. While the total number of cases here remains comparatively low, the surge since the easing of the lockdown order has been alarming. The barrier island, where more than a month passed with no new cases, registered four new cases – an increase of over 40 percent – in little more than a week. At press time the countywide count stood at 216 positive cases. The county’s death toll had risen to 13 with the death of a 41-year-old woman, our youngest local victim by nearly 25 years. The median age of people testing positive has skewed much younger in June. Hovering for months in the 60s, it’s now down to 50 years old. READ FULL STORY

Slow results render nursing home tests useless
week of June 18, 2020

After months of waiting for widespread testing, Florida’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities are finally getting their wish, with almost two-thirds of senior care centers fully tested in Indian River County and 85 percent completed statewide. In some cases, though, the tests of staff and residents took so long to return – more than two weeks for one facility – that results were essentially rendered useless. And there are no plans at the state level to retest, certainly not on the weekly basis that federal guidelines require to safely open the homes to visitors again. The staff and residents of all but 500 of the state’s 3,700 elder care homes – and 14 of 24 in Indian River County – have been tested for COVID-19, a Florida Department of Health spokesperson told Vero Beach 32963 last week. According to state records, the testing appears to have turned up several hundred positive cases in Florida. Locally there were only a handful; the May 18 testing of 424 residents and staff at Indian River Estates’ nursing home and assisted living components turned up only negatives – though 18 positives were later discovered by community-wide testing of all 1,266 staff and residents done by the company itself just two weeks later, proof that follow-up is essential. READ FULL STORY

County and Vero not testing wastewater for coronavirus
week of June 18, 2020

Utilities around the U.S., including in Miami-Dade County, are testing their wastewater for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 in order to protect utility workers who might be exposed to the disease, predict potential hot spots and new outbreaks as the country reopens, and corroborate the results of swab tests administered to people. But right now, neither Indian River County nor the city of Vero Beach has any plans to follow suit – both citing cost and reliability issues. Since March, Miami-Dade's water and sewer authority has been sending wastewater samples to Boston-based Biobot to be tested for the coronavirus. Department director Doug Yoder told the Miami Herald the analysis isn’t reliable yet as a tracking tool for the disease’s prevalence in the community. But he said it could be useful in predicting hot spots or a resurgence of outbreaks in the future. READ FULL STORY

Law enforcement, firefighters getting COVID-19 antibody testing
week of June 18, 2020

With the number of coronavirus cases in Indian River County growing by leaps and bounds, local public safety agencies want to know whether their front-line employees – who have a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 in their close interactions with the public – carry the antibody to the coronavirus. The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, Indian River County Emergency Services District and Indian River Shores Public Safety are working with their health insurance carriers to conduct mass, voluntary testing of employees in June. The Vero Beach Police Department also has authorized voluntary testing. Undersheriff Jim Harpring began planning how to accomplish mass testing of deputies, support staff and corrections personnel about two months ago, and joined up with Fire Chief Tad Stone, and then with Shores Chief Rich Rosell and Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey to get a more complete picture of how many first responders have had COVID-19, gotten over it and may have some level of temporary immunity. READ FULL STORY


Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is back in business
week of June 18, 2020

Guests were ready and waiting when Disney’s Vero Beach Resort reopened on Monday, with 80 percent of the rooms booked. The Walt Disney Company has begun sprinkling fairy dust from coast to coast, reanimating locations nationwide after shutting down all its U.S. parks and resorts in mid-March. The Vero property was one of the first to roll out the red carpet in the phased reopening. On a warm, sunny Monday, visitors began to trickle down to the beach after checking in – anxious to get some sand between their toes before heading back up to the pool or gift shop to grab a souvenir. While the beach only had a few sunbathers and beachcombers early in the day, the Vero resort was at 80 percent capacity, according to rooms coordinator Makeya Jones, and a lot of the guests seemed to be Florida residents. At the first of year, the resort had been fully booked for this week, but Jones said there were some cancellations; those were partially balanced out by others wanting to take a vacation after being stuck at home in recent months. READ FULL STORY


Farmers Market Oceanside reopens to lots of shoppers
week of June 18, 2020

On another busy island weekend, as reopening continues, Vero residents and visitors flocked by foot, on bicycle, in golf carts and cars to shop at the Farmers Market Oceanside after a three-month hiatus. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, health officials in March banned large gatherings including farmers markets, where local farmers and vendors sell their produce and other wares. The market reopened Saturday with 20-some vendors, including prepared food vendors on hand to provide sustenance so browsers could eat and shop simultaneously. The island’s weekly market, hosted by the Oceanside Business Association (OBA), is as much a social event as it is an opportunity to buy locally grown produce and products. After receiving approval from the City of Vero Beach to reopen, the OBA board convened on Thursday and made the decision to resume the Saturday-morning tradition. “We limited advertising so we could have a soft opening,” said Al Benkert, OBA vice president and treasurer. “We know we’re getting a lot of visitors from New York and New Jersey staying at the hotels and they’re not quarantining. To protect the vendors and the rest of the community, we felt we really needed to require the masks.” READ FULL STORY


Indian River Estates uncovers 18 cases of COVID-19 via testing of residents, staff
week of June 18, 2020

Another senior living facility has proved the value of proactive COVID-19 testing – and is coping with the fallout. Indian River Estates uncovered 18 cases, all symptom-free when they were tested, and still symptom-free when their test results finally came back a stunning 13 days later. There was no explanation why it took so long to get the results. While the number seems high, the community is far larger than other senior communities in the county. The 18 positives represent 1.4 percent of the 831 residents and 435 staff who were tested. One of those positives has since tested negative in a swab done at a hospital prior to a planned procedure. Indian River Estates, part of the Pennsylvania-based Acts Retirement-Life Communities chain, is a well-regarded community with independent and assisted living as well as nursing home care that consistently earns five stars on the CMS Nursing Home Compare. It joins Sonata Senior Living in proactive testing. Sonata began regularly testing residents and staff on its own dime back in April. That too turned up COVID-19 positives, one resident and four staff members, all asymptomatic when they tested. READ FULL STORY


Susan Adams, three others win re-election without opposition
week of June 18, 2020

County Commission Chairwoman Susan Adams topped the list of four officials who won re-election without opposition. Adams automatically won a second four-year term in Commission District 5 after no other candidate qualified for the ballot by the deadline at noon, Friday (June 12). All but one of the 20 candidates who qualified for the ballot in the upcoming elections is a Republican. Also winning re-election without opposition were Property Appraiser Wesley Davis, Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan and Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Jeffrey Smith. However, the county’s 119,678 voters have a chance to pick a new sheriff, the tax collector, two county commissioners and two school board members during the Aug. 18 primary and nonpartisan elections. READ FULL STORY


GOP leader Jay Kramer’s wife in school board race
week of June 18, 2020

Alla Kramer’s unexpected last-minute entry into the Indian River County School Board race in District 5 probably came as no surprise to her husband, Jay Kramer, the county’s Republican Party chairman. But it certainly did to former Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot. Had she not filed, Barefoot, a retired college president who started his campaign in February and said he had never heard of Alla Kramer, would have been pronounced the unopposed winner of the seat. But now, Barefoot and Alla Kramer are facing off in an Aug. 18 nonpartisan election for the School Board seat being vacated by Tiffany Justice. Barefoot clearly sees the hand of Jay Kramer behind his wife’s candidacy, citing a grudge that dates from Kramer’s time on the Vero Beach City Council, when Vero and Indian River Shores were at odds over the sale of the city’s electric utility. “He does not like me at all,” Barefoot said about Jay Kramer. “This goes back to when I was mayor of the Shores and leading the lawsuit against the city and he was trying to hang onto the electric business. READ FULL STORY


County’s Republican voters get to pick our next sheriff
week of June 18, 2020

A candidate with no law enforcement experience and no party affiliation has blocked more than half of the county’s 119,678 registered voters from having any say in who becomes the next sheriff. The result: The county’s 55,288 registered Republicans will choose between Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Flowers, Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry, Indian River Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell and retired Sheriff’s Capt. Chuck Kirby in the Republican primary. The winner will run against – and almost surely easily defeat – political newcomer Deborah Cooney on Nov. 3 in a race to replace Sheriff Deryl Loar, who is retiring when he concludes his third term in January. Cooney, a 57-year-old Brown University graduate and former bank executive, closed August’s four-man Republican primary for sheriff last week when she paid the $5,500 fee to qualify as a no party affiliation candidate in November’s general election. Her surprising candidacy – Cooney was expected to drop out after failing to submit the necessary 1,134 valid signatures to get on the ballot via petition – means that the county’s 62,667 Democratic Party and independent voters will not be allowed to vote in the Aug. 18 Republican primary. READ FULL STORY


Good news for the lagoon: seagrass recovering near the Sebastian Inlet
week of June 18, 2020

Seagrass cover in the Indian River Lagoon surrounding Sebastian Inlet increased by nearly eight acres from 2018 to 2019 – a hopeful sign of recovery for at least one portion of the beleaguered estuary following devastating seagrass losses wrought by the algal "superbloom" in 2011. While seagrass patches range from small and spotty to completely absent in much of the 156-mile-long waterway, Sebastian Inlet's 145-acre western flood tidal shoal boasts about 75 percent recovery, according to marine biologist Don Deis of Atkins North America, who has been surveying the area annually for the Sebastian Inlet District for the past 12 years. Environmental scientists consider seagrass to be the foundation of the lagoon ecosystem. The submerged vegetation filters pollutants from the water, slows down erosion, and provides food and shelter for everything from tiny invertebrates to large fish. Deis and Inlet District executive director James Gray credit the inlet's twice-daily tidal flushing from the Atlantic for the steady improvement in local seagrass coverage. "It's a sign of how important keeping the inlet open is to maintaining the central part of the estuary," Gray said. READ FULL STORY


New hangar at Vero airport set for completion in July
week of June 18, 2020

After a COVID-19-prompted work slowdown earlier this year, Corporate Air’s $2.6-million expansion at Vero Beach Regional Airport is back in gear, with completion of a new ramp and hangar slated for the end of July, according to company owner Rodger Pridgeon. “The ramps are paved, and the hangar is about 50 percent,” said Pridgeon. The project broke ground in November and was initially scheduled for completion in April, a date that got pushed back by the pandemic. The project includes a 12,000-square-foot hangar and 100,000 square feet of ramp, where planes can be parked, fueled, loaded, unloaded and boarded. Pridgeon’s latest investment comes on top of a multimillion expansion in 2018 that included construction of ramp space and a new hangar with luxury amenities. When the current project is complete, the flight service company – which provides fuel, maintenance, storage and other services to private planes – will have five hangars at the airport, each one able to accommodate five mid-sized aircraft “up to a Boeing Business Jet.” There’s also a 4,200-square-foot terminal outfitted for high-end clients. READ FULL STORY


Road widening work set to start on seven-mile stretch of state road A1A
week of June 18, 2020

Barrier island motorists can expect delays on State Road A1A from Tides Road just south of the 7-Eleven north to Coco Plum Lane just north of Wabasso Beach starting later this month and continuing until fall 2021 while the highway is widened and resurfaced. The speed limit on A1A will be permanently reduced to 45 mph from 50 mph from John’s Island Drive to Coco Plum Lane as part of the $6.7 million project, Florida Department of Transportation said. Two-way traffic will be maintained by a flag crew during the 15-month long project, FDOT said. Daytime lane closures will occur Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., FDOT said. Nighttime lane closures will occur Sunday through Thursday night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. FDOT contracted C.W. Roberts Contracting, of Wildwood, to widen A1A to provide 7-foot shoulders in each direction for new buffered bicycle lanes. READ FULL STORY


Easing of curbs here sees surge in COVID-19 cases
week of June 11, 2020

The number of Indian River County residents who tested positive for the coronavirus shot up by 28 in one week, with almost all the new cases under 50 years of age, including three children and an infant. An 84-year-old resident of an assisted-living facility who died brought the county’s death toll to 11, and eight long-term-care facilities are actively battling COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities. Florida had reported nearly 65,000 cases of COVID-19, with 11,000 people hospitalized at various times over the past three months, and 2,712 deaths statewide at press time. Yet it’s supposedly safe enough to get a massage, a tattoo or a haircut, or to view a first-run movie on the big screen again. It’s safe enough to pull up a stool at the local watering hole and drink a cocktail, or to dine indoors in a restaurant. It’s safe enough to visit the dentist or get a routine medical procedure. But apparently it’s not safe enough yet for you, the taxpaying public, to enter and move freely about the people’s government buildings. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic folds its testing tent, but warns against relaxing social distancing
week of June 11, 2020

Twelve weeks after Cleveland Clinic Indian River unveiled its drive-through testing process for COVID-19, the hospital has taken down its tent. But it’s hardly due to lack of people wanting to be tested. In fact, demand has continued to increase – but testing has been moved indoors as a result of concern over the fact that hurricane season has started. As one official put it, “tents and hurricanes don’t mix well.” Cleveland Clinic has handled the great majority of testing in Indian River County – conducting more than 5,525 tests for COVID-19 out of 7,000 done here to date. And while the hospital still limits testing to people with symptoms, in accordance with CDC and Health Department guidelines, chief medical officer Dr. David Peter notes free COVID-19 testing for people with no symptoms is now offered in Gifford, Fellsmere and Oslo by Treasure Coast Community Health. In addition, the hospital itself is conducting asymptomatic testing on all surgical patients and other patients admitted to the hospital. It is also testing all patients who arrive at the emergency department from nursing homes and assisted living facilities. For those patients, the hospital uses the two-hour test by Cepheid, known for its reliability. READ FULL STORY


Business brisk at boutiques in Village Shops
week of June 11, 2020

Shoppers have returned en masse to the Village Shops since pandemic sanctions were eased. Normally, the pace at the boutique outdoor shopping center in Indian River Shores slows down in May, but not this year. Village Shops owner Jay McLaughlin attributed May’s increase in shoppers to seasonal residents who have chosen to stay longer and, in some cases, through the summer. As the owner of two businesses in the shopping center – high-end sportswear clothier J. McLaughlin and the Citron Bistro, a fine-dining establishment featuring New American cuisine – McLaughlin has seen the effects of COVID-19 mandated shutdowns from several perspectives: landlord, shop owner and restaurateur. During a time when independent shop owners are struggling, McLaughlin said he is thrilled that all but one of the shops in his center have reopened. The national chain Everything but Water won’t be returning, while the Filomena Day Spa will be reopening in the fall under new ownership since the owner is retiring. To support shop owners during and after the shutdown, McLaughlin allowed tenants to defer rent payments. “We offered a reduction in rent through the summer and then a step up at a latter part in the lease just to help them out.” READ FULL STORY


Parent of Sebastian River hospital taken over by physicians
week of June 11, 2020

Private-equity backed Steward Health Care, owner of Sebastian River Medical Center, has been taken over by a group of its physicians led by the company's CEO, Dr. Ralph de la Torre, making it the largest physician-owned healthcare system in the country. Ten percent of the system would still be owned by Medical Properties Trust, a real estate investment trust that owns the system’s 35 hospital campuses and leases them back to Steward. “This is a transformational moment for the healthcare industry, with new realities in a COVID-19 world that must be addressed with an equally transformational, patient-first approach,” de la Torre said in a statement. “The COVID-19 global pandemic has exposed serious deficiencies in the world’s healthcare systems, with a disproportionate impact on underserved communities and populations. We believe that future healthcare management must completely integrate long-term clinical needs with investments.” What that will mean for the future of Sebastian River Medical Center remains unclear. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the financial health of hospitals across the country, including both Sebastian River and its larger competitor Cleveland Clinic Indian River. READ FULL STORY


Grand Harbor GM receives threat; club members complain about handling of shutdown
week of June 11, 2020

A month after Grand Harbor General Manager Chris Hull received in the mail an envelope containing what a deputy described as an “unknown white powder” and a note that read, “YOU DESERVE THIS,” the incident remained under investigation, Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Flowers said last weekend. “Our detective is working with U.S. Postal Service investigators, and the case is still active,” Flowers said, adding that the powder was tested and found to be a non-hazardous substance. According to the incident report, Hull was in his clubhouse office and going through mail around noon on May 11, when he opened an envelope addressed to him and saw the white powder and the note, which he said he didn’t read. He then noticed there was no return address on the envelope and immediately left his office, ordered the building be vacated and called the Sheriff’s Office. Hull was unable to identify any “specific suspect” or recall any previous threats made to him “by anyone that would cause a well-founded fear,” the report stated. READ FULL STORY


Snowbird finds quarantine more strictly enforced in Canada
week of June 11, 2020

Sea Oaks resident Robert Burke reads the electronic edition of Vero Beach 32963 online when he’s back in Ontario for the summer, and when he read in the May 28 issue that no one at the Indian River County Health Department is contacting incoming travelers from COVID-19 hot spots to enforce Florida’s mandatory 14-day quarantine order, Burke shared his own story of how things are different in Canada. “We have a condo on the ocean and usually spend a couple of weeks at a time, three or four times a year. This March we decided to stay put at Sea Oaks and stayed 12 weeks,” Burke said. When they returned to their northern home in Campbellville, near Toronto, the couple took their legal duty to stay home very seriously, in part because the gravity of the quarantine regulations sunk in as they crossed the border last month. “There was zero traffic on the Peace Bridge at Fort Erie,” Burke said, noting that Customs clearance only took seven minutes. “We were greeted by a friendly officer who clearly explained what the 14-day quarantine involved, and how we were protecting others.” READ FULL STORY


Vero City Hall leaks (the water kind) may lead to move
week of June 11, 2020

Buckets sit on the floor around the upstairs portion of Vero Beach City Hall to catch water from recent downpours, punctuating the dire need for a new roof. Not to worry. Vero has $1 million of your money in reserve that’s budgeted for the job. The big question is, will the city put a new roof on the 58-year-old building, or decide to build a new City Hall instead on the part of the Centennial Place site known as the “Old Postal Annex?” The Old Postal Annex site occupies the southwest corner of 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard and the city already owns the land. The idea of moving City Hall to that site near the riverfront came up last July, but it got dropped as the focus turned to coming up with a central vision for redeveloping the electric and sewer plant properties. “City Manager Monte Falls agreed to research whether Centennial Place could be an appropriate location for a new City Hall,” a July 25, 2019 report in Vero Beach 32963 stated. READ FULL STORY


Island Club golfing couple has an amazing 16 holes-in-one
week of June 11, 2020

Most golfers will never forget their first hole-in-one. Local veterinarian Randy Divine can’t remember his – not vividly, anyway. He’s made 11 of them. “The first one, I must’ve been in my 40s, because I made two of them in the ’90s,” the island resident said last week, after he holed his most recent ace during a round at Bent Pine, where he has been a member since 2004. “We were still living in Minnesota and I think it was a foggy day, because I remember we were all looking for the ball, then someone looked in the hole and there it was,” he added. “It was pretty exciting, getting that first one.” Same for the second one. And the third. Eventually, though, as the years passed and the holes-in-one kept coming, the novelty began to wear off. Now, he said, he doesn’t think much about them until one of his tee shots appears to be tracking toward the flag and someone in his group says, “Here comes another one.” Otherwise, Divine said, “I can’t remember the specifics about all of them. It’s hard to keep them all straight in my mind.” READ FULL STORY


County’s school tax referendum will be on Aug. 18 ballot
week of June 11, 2020

Indian River County’s school tax referendum will be on the ballot during the Aug. 18 primary election after the School Board prevailed over the County Commission in a legal battle. County commissioners capitulated and voted unanimously to direct the Supervisor of Elections to place the school tax referendum on the Aug. 18 ballot as ordered by state Judge Janet Croom. The commissioners voted on the resolution without commenting during their emergency special meeting and no one from the public spoke. The meeting lasted about three minutes. Croom ruled state law gives the School Board the authority to direct the County Commission to call an election for a certain date and “the commissioners have no discretion to choose a different date.” After Thursday’s meeting, County Attorney Dylan Reingold and several commissioners did not discuss appealing Croom’s ruling to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. The commissioners earlier voted twice to place the school tax referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot because voter turnout for general elections is typically more than twice as high as turnout for primary elections. READ FULL STORY


Sea Watch resident leads effort to protect rebuilt dunes
week of June 11, 2020

The destruction wrought on the New Jersey coastline in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy was devastating to many but it produced at least one positive outcome for Vero’s barrier island: inspiring Sea Watch condominium resident Lin Van Name to lead an effort to protect dunes by planting protective flora to keep sand in place. After experiencing on the Jersey Shore the total decimation of protective dunes during Hurricane Sandy, Van Name made it her mission to learn everything she could about dune stabilization. She attended dune management seminars offered post-Sandy though Rutgers University and the New Jersey Sea Grant consortium; acquired the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Florida Dune Manual; and on her return to Florida, brought what she had learned to the condo’s board of directors, resulting in the establishment of the Sea Watch Dune Project. She calls it “building a dune one plant at a time.” The dunes in front of the condominium complex gained about 8 feet of new sand during Indian River County’s major beach renourishment project completed in February, and Van Name wants to keep that protective sand in place. Working with the County’s Coastal Engineering Division, she and others are covering the dunes with a growing array of sand grabbing plants. READ FULL STORY


Increased testing produces surge in COVID-19 cases
week of June 4, 2020

Widespread testing, isolating infected people and diligent contract tracing. Those three things are no silver bullet, but they are an important aspect of keeping COVID-19 at bay in Vero Beach – and more controllable than whether people stay home, wear masks or comply with social distancing. In terms of testing, Indian River County did a terrific job over the past month. State officials tasked the Indian River County Health Department with testing 2 percent of the county’s population during May. The department itself only tested a tiny fraction of that 3,000-person target, but between the two hospitals, clinics, the Florida Air National Guard and private labs, the county exceeded the goal, with more than 3,900 people tested. Everyone was hoping that a testing blitz would prove that Indian River County was safe from COVID-19. Instead, all that testing resulted in a record 27 new cases over the past two weeks, including our worst day yet last Sunday with five new cases. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic may have saved life of our hospital
week of June 4, 2020

Cleveland Clinic’s takeover of the former Indian River Medical Center a year ago may have saved the life of our county hospital. In the midst of pandemic-induced losses that are decimating hospitals nationwide, it’s an open question whether an independent local hospital would have survived the drastic reduction in revenue that hospitals all over the country have experienced when elective surgeries were halted to preserve protective gear and prevent contagion. Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic appears to be faring better than most hospitals after a big jump in operating revenue last year, and receiving one of the largest CARES Act stimulus payments granted to any hospital. Back in January 2019 when Cleveland Clinic got the keys to the hospital, no one could have imagined the COVID-19 pandemic – or how valuable the presence of the renowned healthcare organization would prove to be for area residents once that pandemic struck. Today we have at least an inkling. Besides having world-class healthcare close at hand for testing and treatment during the most dramatic public health crisis of our lifetimes, Cleveland’s relative financial strength is an additional source of comfort to the Vero community. READ FULL STORY


What was the rush to reopen door for vacation rentals?
week of June 4, 2020

NEWS ANALYSIS | Did Indian River County throw open the doors and invite out-of-town visitors to begin checking into its 80 registered vacation rentals – including 41 homes and condos on the barrier island – much sooner than makes any sense? What was the rush? We thought the idea was to contain the number of infections, and deal with the local cases we had, without importing the virus from out of state. Island residents can easily avoid the Ocean Drive hotels and resorts if they want to keep a safe distance from folks visiting from Miami and the New York area. But a vacation rental could be right next door or down the hall of your condo building. Short-term renters could be using your clubhouse, tennis courts or community swimming pool. So who made this decision? The County Commission? Well, not exactly. Just like the order to close the county’s beach accesses in March, and a host of other recent rules that affect our daily lives, the decision two weeks ago to send Gov. Ron DeSantis a plan to allow vacation rentals to operate during Phase One of the reopening of Florida was made essentially by county staff, under the auspices of emergency powers. READ FULL STORY


State finally doing more COVID-19 testing in elder care facilities
week of June 4, 2020

An ambitious statewide testing initiative is finally drilling down on Vero Beach’s real-time COVID-19 positives in long-term care facilities. But the effort, inexplicably veiled in secrecy, does not explain the uptick in cases over the past week. Only one of the facilities showing up for the first time on the state report on COVID-19 positive long-term care facilities was the result of health department testing. Rosewood Manor, a 50-bed assisted living facility south of Leisure Square, had two residents test positive though neither had symptoms. A second facility new on the list, Solaris Senior Living on Indian River Boulevard, showed up on the report after a staffer who had been trained not to come to work if he felt sick got himself tested and turned up positive. He is now recovering and in the 14 days since he was last at Solaris, no one has turned up with symptoms. But Solaris has seen no sign of a government testing team. A third facility new to the list, Grace Rehabilitation Center, long considered among the best of the county’s skilled nursing facilities, has an asymptomatic COVID-19 positive patient. READ FULL STORY


Jobs come back as island businesses rebound from shutdown
week of June 4, 2020

Business at beachside restaurants has been so good since Gov. Ron DeSantis implemented Phase One of his plan to reopen Florida last month that most of them are operating at full staff or close to it – even while limited to 50 percent capacity. Likewise, Vero Beach’s two oceanfront resort hotels, each of which normally employs about 130 people, have been rehiring food-and-beverage, housekeeping and spa workers as they rebound from the shutdown. Vero Beach Hotel & Spa was up to 70 percent of full staff last week, according to General Manager Awet Sium, and Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa was at 80 percent. “The size of our staff is based on our business volume,” Costa d’Este General Manager Chad Olson said. “My hope is that, as business slowly starts to come back, we’ll be able to bring back more employees and get back to full staff.” Sium said he’s encouraged by what he has seen during the reopening thus far, calling it “very positive.” Those same words were uttered by some of the island’s top restaurateurs. READ FULL STORY


‘Tidal wave’ of court cases makes social distancing a challenge
week of June 4, 2020

As the County Courthouse reopened for legal proceedings this week, the greatest concern was how to efficiently get people with court business into the building while still keeping them safe in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That will pose a challenge on days like next Tuesday, when County Judge David Morgan has 187 cases on his docket and Judge Menz has scheduled 19 cases in Veterans Court in the morning and 123 cases in Mental Health Court in the afternoon – 329 cases in all, many with multiple people present for the hearing. “We’re going to have a number of people trying to get in at one time, and some days that number is going to be quite large, so there are going to be lines,” County Clerk of Court Jeff Smith said. “The deputies will do their best to move people along, but there’s a long screening process you’ll be required to go through to get in,” he added. “We’re going to have wait times. Anyone coming to the courthouse should allow for a delay at the door.” READ FULL STORY


How will public school work when classes resume Aug. 10?
week of June 4, 2020

As Indian River County public schools prepare for students to return to their classrooms Aug. 10, the outstanding question is how this will work during a continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Will some students attend classes mornings and others afternoons? Will students actually go to their classrooms every other day? While resuming traditional school routines would be ideal, Superintendent David Moore said the district plans to devise a blend of classroom instruction and virtual lessons to meet the needs of students and their families. “This continues to evolve over time,” Moore told the School Board during a May 26 workshop. “Our goal is to return to a traditional Monday through Friday experience as best we possibly can, adhering to the [Centers for Disease Control] recommendations that will be in place at that particular time.” The district is surveying parents about how the virtual learning system worked after the pandemic closed campuses for the last two months of the school year, Moore said. The input will be used to improve the system for the new school year. READ FULL STORY


Security tech arrested for video voyeurism at Wackenhut mansion
week of June 4, 2020

An electronics technician accused of planting a spy camera in an Indian River Shores mansion was arrested after police say he retrieved the camera from the bathroom being used by two teenage girls at what’s known as the Wackenhut Estate in Bermuda Bay. Lennon Starkweather, a 37- year-old county resident, is out on $50,000 bond after being arrested May 27 on two misdemeanor charges of video voyeurism. Public records show that Starkweather runs two businesses, Total Home Management and Electronics by Design, both specializing in integrated, high-tech audiovisual, security and lighting systems. One of his customers lives in the eight-bedroom, 22,000-square-foot oceanfront home on five acres built in the 1990s by the late George Wackenhut, founder of the Wackenhut Corporation. According to the police report, owner John Gorman had invited members of his extended family to the $18.6 million home, including his teenage granddaughter. The granddaughter was joined by a friend and the two girls shared a suite in the home with an open bathroom and shower. READ FULL STORY


Computer models show small ocean flow would improve flushing of Bethel Creek
week of June 4, 2020

Indian River County got some good news this week from the Florida Institute of Technology scientist studying the idea of flushing polluted Bethel Creek with ocean water. “The basic result with respect to Bethel Creek shows that a relatively small amount of flow introduced from the coastal ocean will noticeably improve the flushing rate of Bethel Creek and the local Indian River Lagoon compartment which serves the creek,” reads an email from Dr. Gary Zarillo received by Indian River County Commissioner Tim Zorc, who has advocated opening a link between the creek and nearby ocean for year. Zarillo did not provide background data or graphics from the $800,000 state-funded study of flushing portions of the lagoon in his email to Zorc, but wrote that he and his FIT colleagues have completed their testing of models for Bethel Creek and are working on their final report to be presented to the public this summer. Zorc said that could happen in late June-early July either at a regular county commission meeting or public workshop. READ FULL STORY


No new COVID-19 cases on the island in the past month
week of May 28, 2020

Next Thursday will mark one month since the phased reopening of Florida, and over the past two weeks Indian River County has added 17 new cases to its tally of people infected with the novel coronavirus. As of press time, no county residents had died in the past two weeks. Remarkably, there have been no new COVID-19 cases reported on the barrier island since April 27. That’s a testament to barrier island residents taking the threat of this global pandemic seriously, and abiding by smart recommendations on social distancing and wearing masks when they need to go out. With travel restrictions beginning to ease, and visitors flocking to Vero because it’s a safe, small town with a low infection rate, now is not the time to grow weary or bored of being on our best behavior. Asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people patients now account for up to 30 percent of transmissions of the novel coronavirus, so public health officials say it’s safest to act as if everyone has COVID-19. READ FULL STORY


No one checks on self-quarantine of visitors from NYC
week of May 28, 2020

Elite Airways’ flights, when running at capacity, potentially bring about 100 passengers to Vero from the New York metropolitan area each week, so it’s important to know who is making sure these visitors are self-quarantined for 14 days to stop any spread of the novel coronavirus to this area. The bottom line is no one follows up with these travelers. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ highly publicized executive order regarding folks coming to Florida from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut is a total sham. USA Today last week made a really big deal over “fact checking” whether travelers disembarking in Florida are actually filling out the form now required for people coming from COVID-19 hot spots. It declared DeSantis’ statement that nearly 80,000 such forms had been collected from people arriving by plane and via our highway system to be “True.” What USA Today did not bother to ask was whether those forms are put to any use, or whether there is any follow-up with those New York area travelers. When Elite relaunched flights into the Vero Beach Regional Airport earlier this month, Vero Beach 32963 started digging into what happens after passengers submit the “traveler forms” upon disembarking at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. READ FULL STORY


Is Vero Beach tourism on the road back?
week of May 28, 2020

There wasn’t a parking place to be had along Ocean Drive during the sunny part of the Memorial Day weekend, and the parking lots of the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, Holiday Inn, Costa d’Este and the Driftwood were close to full. Is this a sign that Vero Beach tourism, after a couple of months of being shutdown by the coronavirus pandemic, is starting to make a comeback? The cautious answer would seem to be, “Yes!” These hotels and many smaller, boutique hotels on the island saw a substantial increase in guest activity over the holiday weekend, and several reported they were booked to capacity. Most of the weekend guests appeared to be Floridians. With beaches still closed in some parts of South Florida, visitors from there and elsewhere were willing to make the drive to Vero to de-stress and dip their toes in the sea. And those that ventured out of the hotels to visit seaside shops and restaurants now open again were for the most part good about observing social distancing. READ FULL STORY


Blue Star Brasserie first fine dining restaurant to close
week of May 28, 2020

The Blue Star Brasserie will be serving dinner for the last time this Saturday, May 30, Chef-Owner Kitty Wagner announced in an email sent to frequent customers. The closure is taking place amid a nationwide crisis for restaurants trying to survive the financial impact of COVID-19 shutdowns, but Wagner says that is not the main reason she is pulling the plug on her popular dining spot. Instead, the driving force is a desire for change and something new. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the response from customers since the announcement,” said Wagner, who began to receive a constant stream of emails, texts and phone calls minutes after the announcement went out. “I’ve actually had a hard time getting prepped at the restaurant because my phone keeps ringing.” Assuming the closure was a result of the two-month shutdown, offers of assistance from patrons and fellow chefs poured in, warming Wagner’s heart. In fact, what the pandemic did for Wagner was to create a sense of clarity. “I’m 53, and now that I’ve had two months off, unintentionally, I had time to think. What do I want to do with the second half of the time I have?’” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 safety measures bring profound changes to VNA Hospice care
week of May 28, 2020

Caitlin Kennedy had been working as a VNA Hospice nurse for only a few months when her world changed overnight: her son was born. That was last fall. When it was clear COVID-19 would be changing her world again, she sought guidance from Dr. Michael Venazio, medical director at VNA/Hospice and who makes house calls to hospice patients and rounds twice daily at the organization’s 12-bedroom Hospice House on 37th Street. “When he told me he had children of his own, and that he feels prepared for COVID-19, that really put my mind at ease,” said Kennedy. “This is a man who is very dedicated to his family. He reassured me that by following all the proper protocol, you are not putting your family at risk.” Just as hospice nurses have COVID-19 concerns, so do their non-COVID patients and families. Part of hospice’s mission in the pandemic is to reassure them that there are protocols in place to keep them safe. At any given time, there are around 165 people in hospice in Indian River County, receiving care at home, in a hospital or nursing home or Hospice House, and COVID-19 has profoundly affected their care. Only a handful are known to have had COVID-19. But a comprehensive set of precautions must be in place regardless. READ FULL STORY


New county courthouse rules to go into effect on reopening Monday
week of May 28, 2020

If you go to the Indian River County Courthouse when it reopens Monday, you’ll see plenty of signs warning you to not enter the building if you’ve been advised by health officials to remain quarantined because of exposure to COVID-19. To get past the deputies at the entryway, in fact, you’ll need to have your temperature taken and fill out a coronavirus-related questionnaire to prove you don’t have a fever and haven’t knowingly put yourself at risk of being infected. Once you get in, you must wear a mask, so bring one or a disposable face covering will be provided. You’ll also be required to practice social distancing, to the extent possible, by staying at least 6 feet away from other people. The use of hand sanitizer is encouraged and will be available at stations throughout the courthouse. It’s all part of the courthouse-reopening protocols issued this month by the chief judge of the four-county circuit that includes Indian River. “We’re dealing with something that’s unprecedented in our lifetimes, so there’s no manual for this,” 19th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Lawrence Mirman said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re all trying to preserve constitutional rights and, at the same time, prevent the spread of the virus and keep people healthy. READ FULL STORY


Surgeon’s appeal of life sentence rejected
week of May 28, 2020

The latest chapter in the real-life tragedy authored by Johnny Benjamin was written earlier this month when the once-prominent Vero Beach orthopedic-surgeon-turned-drug-dealer failed to convince a federal appeals court that he wasn’t responsible for the death of a 34-year-old Wellington woman. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit has upheld the life sentence imposed in 2018 after Benjamin was convicted on charges he produced and distributed counterfeit fentanyl-laced pills consumed by Maggie Crowley, who died of a drug overdose in September 2016. In denying the appeal, the judges flatly rejected all of Benjamin’s arguments, including his claim that law enforcement authorities did not prove he produced the drugs that led to the woman’s death. In his 24-page ruling, Judge Stanley Marcus wrote that prosecutors introduced “more than sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt” Benjamin distributed the furanyl fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opioid – that caused Crowley’s death. READ FULL STORY


Who did – and didn’t – get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot
week of May 28, 2020

Indian River County Commission Chairwoman Susan Adams topped the list of candidates who failed to qualify for the ballot in the upcoming elections by collecting signatures from 1 percent of the county’s voters. Instead, Adams and three other active candidates for countywide office must pay a fee to the Supervisor of Elections by June 12 to get on the ballot for the Aug. 18 primary election or the Nov. 3 general election. The COVID-19-triggered shutdown of the state on March 17 greatly increased the challenge of convincing 1,134 registered voters to sign their ballot petitions by the May 11 deadline. Candidates were unable to engage in the time-honored practice of collecting signatures from voters in person at large events, near public buildings, or by going door-to-door. Democratic Sheriff’s candidate Deborah Cooney said the pandemic stopped her petitioning efforts 189 signatures short of the requirement. “Meetings have been canceled,” Cooney said. “Door-to-door canvassing is not feasible because people are afraid of the virus.” READ FULL STORY


North barrier island beaches slated for fall renourishment
week of May 28, 2020

North barrier island beaches are set to get another dose of trucked-in sand this fall as soon as turtle season is over, to replenish shoreline lost when Hurricane Dorian skirted the coast in 2019. The County Commission on May 12 approved a work order for $41,000 for engineering services needed to begin the project for the area called Sector 3, which extends from Seaview subdivision south to Turtle Trail beach park. “The Sector 3 project area is a critically eroded 6.6-mile section of shoreline that ... sustained damage from Hurricane Matthew (2016), Irma (2017), and Dorian (2019) creating the need for repair,” Public Works Director Rich Szpyrka told commissioners. This stretch of beach was replenished earlier in a major three-phase project that spanned from 2010 to 2012. Dune repair projects are funded up-front by various county revenue sources, including the optional penny sales tax and the bed tax. Half or more of the cost is “eligible” for state or federal reimbursement, but it often takes time to see that money returned to county coffers. READ FULL STORY


County gets grant to remove 7 derelict boats from the lagoon
week of May 28, 2020

Armed with a grant from the state, Indian River County is poised to get rid of seven derelict vessels scattered the length of our lagoon that range in size from a 25-foot cabin cruiser to a 38-foot sailboat. The abandoned boats not only look ugly, but pose a navigational hazard, leak pollutants and damage the estuary bottom. Melbourne marine contractor CCNK LLC will remove the abandoned watercraft using heavy equipment, and possibly a barge, to get them out of the water. The total project cost of $22,100 is being footed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s derelict vessel removal grant program. The vessels include a 25-foot Sea Ray cabin cruiser that’s awash in the lagoon north of the Barber Bridge; a 32-foot Endeavor sailboat abandoned in the St. Sebastian River since 2018; the 32-foot catamaran “Stress Relief” and 36-foot cabin cruiser “Miss Behaving” sitting in the lagoon north of Main Street in Sebastian since last year; and the 30-foot C & C Yachts sailboat “Final Destination,” which overturned near Sebastian Yacht Club last year. READ FULL STORY


When COVID-19 hits home
week of May 21, 2020

Cloistered like dormmates, the five elderly men who died of COVID-19 over a 10-day span in April lived in the memory care wing at HarborChase, the assisted living facility that was the first in the county to see cases. And in the way college dorms draw different people together, the five came from diverse backgrounds. With histories pieced together from the raw data of medical examiner reports and the poignant details of obituaries, the group that COVID-19 felled at HarborChase turns out to have been an extraordinary bunch. A man who worked on a mission to the moon. An engineer in the pulp industry. A top Wall Street executive. A public school system administrator. One man was born in Gifford. Another was born in the Bronx to immigrants and didn’t learn English until he started first grade. One man excelled at painting; another was always dancing. Still another sang in a barbershop quartet. One had a marriage that lasted three-quarters of a century. Another was a widower who had found a new girlfriend. READ FULL STORY


Neville voice of reason on rapid Vero reopening
week of May 21, 2020

The City of Vero Beach last week sent a resolution to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to expedite the reopening of businesses in the city, after the City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the action. Councilman Rey Neville, a Central Beach resident, was the lone dissenting vote, and his remarks are worth noting as part of what’s been the only robust public debate this month weighing the pros and cons of rapid reopening. Neville, a retired Air Force Colonel who served 26 years in the military, then as a manufacturing executive and a university professor, is a smart, serious and eloquent guy. He moved to Vero from Connecticut when he was 8 years old, grew up in Central Beach and then traveled wherever the Air Force took him around the world. He chose to retire in Vero Beach for the quality of life. At 78 years old, Neville embodies not only the barrier island demographic, but also represents the concerns of Vero Beach 32963 readers when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a widower, he knows sickness and loss in a deep and personal way. READ FULL STORY


The Patio, iconic Vero restaurant, closed and for sale
week of May 21, 2020

For the first time since Vero Beach pioneer Waldo Sexton began designing and building The Patio more than 70 years ago, the restaurant – along with the two-thirds-of-an-acre parcel on which it sits – is for sale. The asking price is $995,000. But Sexton’s descendants would rather not sell the local landmark, which for decades was a thriving eatery that attracted locals and visitors, including the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers during their annual spring-training stays here. Michael Sexton, Waldo’s great-grandson and president of the company that owns the now-shuttered restaurant, said last weekend the family would prefer to lease the historic property to a tenant that possesses the talent, ingenuity and financial means to reopen the once-popular eatery and restore its place among Vero’s dining traditions. “We’re not looking to just get rid of it,” Sexton said. “In all honesty, we’re not all that motivated to sell. We’d much rather find a new tenant, the right tenant, someone who knows how to successfully utilize such a wonderfully unique structure.” So why put it on the market? READ FULL STORY


Private clubs again providing amenities shut down by pandemic
week of May 21, 2020

Little by little, week by week, Vero’s golf and country clubs have begun reopening their facilities and providing the amenities shut down in March to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Most clubs have reopened their golf courses, tennis courts and dining facilities – as well as swimming pools, beach clubs and fitness centers – albeit with restrictions governing social distancing, capacity, sanitization and other safety-enhancement measures. Almost all the clubs initially restricted use of their amenities to members only, though some began easing that limitation last week. Of the larger clubs in the community, only Grand Harbor remains closed – and, according to a recorded message delivered when calling the club’s main phone number, will remain so “until further notice.” The recording goes on to say: “The clubhouse, golf courses, beach club and tennis center are closed. There are no services at those locations. We will resume operations as soon as we are confident the spread of the coronavirus has subsided.” Several clubs never closed their golf courses, opting instead to impose rules limiting carts to one rider, spreading out tee times, prohibiting the removal of flagsticks for putting and enforcing social-distancing requirements. READ FULL STORY


Island’s seasonal residents staying longer to avoid problems up north
week of May 21, 2020

Easter Sunday and May Pops are two points on the calendar that typically trigger a parade of car carriers on A1A as barrier island seasonal residents prepare to leave and ship their autos back up north. But this year many of those snowbirds – and their cars – are staying longer due to COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions in northern cities. From one end of the barrier island to the other, seasonal residents have adopted a “wait and see” mentality about when or if they will migrate north for the summer. Canadian retirees are the exception, forced to return home in March to avoid losing medical coverage. “We usually leave by the end of May,” said Barbara Crosby, an Orchid Island resident whose northern home is in New Hampshire. “We have great trepidation. We just may stay until August. We’re happy in this little Vero Beach bubble and wondering what it’s going to be like if we go home.” The Crosbys are not alone, according to Rob Tench, Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club general manager, noting that the club has 50 percent more people here right now than a year ago. READ FULL STORY


Vero pulmonologist masterminds meal delivery to frontline workers
week of May 21, 2020

When she read a pandemic-related news story about people raising money to “feed workers on the frontlines in six different hospitals,” Vero Beach pulmonologist Michele Maholtz “thought it was an amazing idea.” Dozens of phone calls and e-mails later, she had a list of recipients, a team of volunteers, a GoFundMe page, and a group of restaurants ready to participate. Having now delivered nearly 1,000 meals, Support Our Frontline is still going strong. The first meals were delivered April 2 and, as of May 15, the doctor and her team of staff and volunteers had provided 979 breakfasts or lunches to “medical workers and law enforcement working tirelessly to keep us healthy and safe,” says Maholtz, who has practiced in Vero Beach for 20 years. Along with supporting frontline workers, Maholtz says “we are also supporting our local restaurants, so it is a win-win situation, making a positive out of a negative during a very difficult time.” With a goal of keeping meals at $10 or less, participating restaurants include Mrs. Mac’s Filling Station, Einstein Bagels and Brooklyn Water Bagels in Vero Beach, and The Italian Cousin in Sebastian. READ FULL STORY


Local real estate market comes roaring back from slowdown
week of May 21, 2020

Real estate activity here has come roaring back from a brief COVID-19 lull, the upsurge driven in part by buyers from large, densely-populated cities where the pandemic has been widespread looking to small towns like Vero Beach, according to brokers and developers. Redfin, a nationwide real estate firm, reports that “Americans are shopping for homes in small towns – those with populations of less than 50,000 – at an exceptionally higher rate than they were last year,” with pageviews of its listings surging “105 percent, year over year, during the seven-day period that ended May 1.” “The phone started ringing at the beginning of the month, and it hasn’t stopped,” says Premier Estate Properties broker associate Cindy O’Dare, who recently put an oceanfront home under contract, sight unseen, to a buyer who wants out of the big city where they live. “My partner Richard Boga and I are very busy.” “Our island office is busy, and our downtown office is even busier,” says Dale Sorensen Real Estate broker/owner Matilde Sorensen. “We are getting a lot people from New York City, New Jersey, Boston and Chicago, along with people from Orlando and South Florida. Many people from up north are fearful for their children, afraid it won’t be safe for them to go to school up there.” READ FULL STORY


Infection number sounds good, but more tests needed
week of May 14, 2020

With businesses and local governments chomping at the bit to accelerate the reopening of the local economy, increased testing for the virus and down the road for the antibody would seem a top priority. After all, how would you know if Monday’s good news – that only one person had tested positive for COVID-19 in Indian River County in the previous six days – was a sign that the pandemic is abating here unless you knew what percentage of the county’s 160,000 residents had been tested. Well, would you believe that as of Monday afternoon, a pathetic average of 53 people a day had been tested over the past two weeks by all of the public facilities, hospitals, clinics and private labs in Indian River County? And the Indian River County Health Department said that of that total, it had tested a grand total of 29 people in May. How do government and health officials make intelligent decisions about reopening the economy based on such scant information? READ FULL STORY


Vero churches cautiously reopening for worship
week of May 14, 2020

In another sign of life edging back toward some kind of normal, at least one Vero Beach church reopened to in-person worship services on Sunday. Christ Church Vero Beach held both Sunday School classes and a modified worship service Sunday morning. Parishioners were invited to worship in person but were asked to make a reservation to ensure no more than 40 were in attendance. They were also asked to wear masks, sanitize their hands, and maintain 6-feet between household groups, and warned that anyone over 65 or at-risk should participate in the live stream services instead. Churches were not specifically forced to close by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ April 1 shutdown order, but a part of the order that prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people made in-person worship services impractical. That restriction was lifted in the Phase I reopening order that went into effect May 4. “When the governor said that we could meet – and being present with one another is so important – we thought we would give it a whirl and try and do it responsibly,” said the Rev. Canon B. Keith Allen. “We’re not trying to be capricious or cavalier.” READ FULL STORY


Childcare a problem for parents ready to return to workplace
week of May 14, 2020

Shortages of toilet paper and bleach are not the only ones created by the COVID-19 health crisis. Quality childcare also is in short supply. Some island residents who planned to returned to work last week, as the state began to reopen, saw their plans come to a screeching halt when they discovered their childcare facilities either wouldn’t be reopening anytime soon or were unable to accommodate as many children. At the same time, other parents are afraid to send their children back to pre-school so soon, which has contributed to some pre-schools staying closed. Most childcare facilities in the county follow the school district’s schedule in terms of school closings. So, when the school district announced two months ago it was closing, many childcare facilities followed suit. “We shut down the same time that the school district did,” said Reeny Sempsrott, Trinity Episcopal preschool director. “We felt that if the School Board was doing it that they had good reason. With the uncertainty, especially in the beginning, parents were very concerned, as we were.” READ FULL STORY


Some laid-off workers in the county getting unemployment benefits; others still waiting
week of May 14, 2020

Unemployment checks have started flowing to some laid-off workers in Indian River County, but others have languished without benefits since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the state economy in mid-March. Several laid-off Indian River County residents told Vero Beach 32963 they started receiving weekly payments of $247 in regular state unemployment benefits and $600 per week under federal Pandemic Unemployment programs. But the state Department of Economic Opportunity and Indian River County’s state lawmakers were unable to provide statistics showing how many county residents are collecting unemployment. “We have no way of knowing specifically how many have started to receive benefits, but we’ve heard that some have,” said state Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach). Jo Anne Miller, who was laid off from her project manager job with Rod Mickley Interiors on April 6, said she filed for unemployment right away, but didn’t receive her first payment until a check came in the mail April 27. “I was very happy to get a check because that meant I was now in the system,” Miller said Thursday. “I was very thankful because I know how much trouble a lot of people are having.” READ FULL STORY


Chief judge hopes to reopen court house by June 1
week of May 14, 2020

Chief Judge Lawrence Mirman of the four-county circuit that includes Indian River wants to reopen courthouses along the Treasure Coast as soon as June 1, and he has ordered the formation of a special panel to establish the safety protocols needed to do so. Local courthouses have been closed since mid-March, creating a backlog in both criminal and civil cases despite the efforts by judges and attorneys to conduct hearings using video-conferencing systems. The 19th Judicial Circuit Covid-19 Reopening Workgroup mandated by Mirman was scheduled to conduct its first meeting Tuesday afternoon via the Zoom video-conferencing application. “How do we get together in a courtroom and effectively carry out our duties and dispense justice without violating anyone’s rights and getting anybody sick?” Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said. “That’s what we have to figure out.” Once the rules and procedures have been approved, they will be announced by the circuit’s Trial Court Administrator and implemented by the sheriff’s offices at the courthouses. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River Medical Center gets 'D' grade for safety from Leapfrog
week of May 14, 2020

At a critical time for patient safety concerns, Sebastian River Medical Center has slipped to a ‘D’ for its Leapfrog Hospital Safety score – down from an ‘A’ one year ago, which was up from an ‘F’ the year before that. The ‘F’ grade, one of only two in the state, was widely publicized when the Leapfrog Group, a national hospital safety organization, made the announcement in spring 2018. The jump to an ‘A’ grade in spring 2019 was proudly cited by Sebastian River executives as a sign of strong new leadership under its parent company, Steward Health. Now, the hospital has fallen back to a ‘D’. While Sebastian River offers testing for COVID-19, it has very few COVID-19 positive in-patients. That is because Steward Health has decided to consolidate patients with the disease at Rockledge Medical Center, one of two hospitals it owns in Brevard County. That move is intended to limit the spread of the disease as well as to conserve personal protective equipment. READ FULL STORY


Council member apologizes for attack on Vero airport director
week of May 14, 2020

Two months after publicly criticizing longtime Vero Beach Airport Director Eric Menger for an inconsequential administrative error and calling for his firing, City Councilman Joe Graves has apologized. In a May 7 email to Menger, who announced his retirement shortly after the verbal assault, Graves wrote: “Please accept my apology for publicly calling for your termination. I did not handle the situation properly. “Also, please accept my thanks for your many years of service to our great city,” he added. “I hope you enjoy your retirement.” Menger replied the next day with an email in which he accepted Graves’ apology, acknowledged the challenges of serving on the City Council and offered leadership advice based on his 24 years managing the airport. Menger also suggested Graves, a rookie council member, trust the “talented group of professionals” running the city’s day-to-day operations. “As a public servant, your position comes with great responsibility,” Menger wrote in a three-paragraph email. “I admire all elected officials for taking on that responsibility when it is often a thankless job. READ FULL STORY


Councilman Graves threatens to sue Vero Beach Air Show
week of May 14, 2020

Vero Beach Councilman Joe Graves has threatened to sue the 2020 Vero Beach Air Show if organizers don’t refund the nearly $800 he paid for six VIP passes, plus $200 in damages. On April 29, Graves’ law partner sent the air show’s registered agent a “Civil Theft Notice” demanding the money back within 30 days. The air show had to be canceled on March 14 due to coronavirus lockdowns. Ticketholders were sent a letter explaining why the difficult decision was made to postpone the event and promising that tickets and parking permits “will be honored at the next scheduled Vero Beach Air Show.” Graves purchased six Saturday advance VIP tickets in the Barnstormer Chalet Section for April 25 when the Blue Angels would have been appearing. Each ticket cost $132.87 and Graves wants his $797.22 back – plus he feels he deserves $200 in “damages.” “According to the CDC there are no mandatory requirements for the cancellation of an event such as the Vero Beach Air Show, only recommendations,” Graves’ letter states. READ FULL STORY


Good news: Loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles nesting here earlier than usual
week of May 14, 2020

There was good news about sea turtles a month ago when county officials announced that leatherbacks – the largest of the three species seen on Indian River County beaches – had begun nesting here earlier than in previous years. And now there is more good news: Two loggerhead nests were laid April 23 along a stretch of shoreline where the beaches and dunes were built up with inland sand last winter – a “good sign that the turtles are receiving the newly-placed sand well,” according to a news release from the county’s Coastal Engineering Division. County officials say one nest was laid near Riomar, the other at Tracking Station Park – both located within the so-called Sector 5 Project Area between Vista Del Mar Condos and Riomar, where more than 160,000 cubic yards of sand were spread to mitigate storm-caused erosion. The sand was trucked in from Stewart Materials’ upland site in Fort Pierce. Sea turtle watchers in the community had been concerned that the threatened and endangered loggerheads, which spend most of their lives in the open ocean – coming ashore to nest on the beaches where they were born – might refuse to lay their eggs in unfamiliar sand. READ FULL STORY