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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


Vero’s beachside reopens
week of May 7, 2020

As Florida embarked on the first day of the first phase of recovery from the coronavirus shutdown ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, it was hardly business as usual along Vero Beach’s Ocean Drive. But it wasn’t supposed to be. “We know we’re not going to hit a home run today,” Mulligan’s Beach House owner George Hart said, adding that the restaurant was providing but discouraging indoor dining. “We just wanted to get our toes back in the sand.” He wasn’t alone. There was an upbeat mood all along Ocean Drive as customers returned to shops they have not been able to visit in recent weeks. “It’s like the first day of school,” Veranda owner Cathy Padgett said. “We’re all so excited to be open again. I think everybody on the street is anxious to be back.” Some salesclerks and shoppers wore masks, many didn’t. Several shops provided hand sanitizer, gloves and masks for customers that wanted them. All the shops were conscientious about limiting the number of customers in the store at any given time, and several stores left doors open, or at least ajar, so customers didn’t need to touch door handles. READ FULL STORY


3 local long-term care facilities now fighting COVID-19
week of May 7, 2020

The beachside business district began to creak open a smidge this week after almost two months in various degrees of lockdown, but on the eve of that soft opening, Indian River County had the largest one-day jump in COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived here March 19, with four new cases reported Sunday. In addition, three local long-term care facilities – Palm Garden nursing home plus HarborChase of Vero and Sonata Senior Living – are now battling novel coronavirus outbreaks, according to state reports. The four new cases reported Sunday, which were among staff members at Sonata on State Road 60 just across from Vero’s historic McAnsh Park neighborhood, prove that even when good precautions are taken, the virus can find a way in. On April 20, the facility’s management stated in a note to residents and families, “Sonata proactively tested every resident, staff member, and private sitter.” And yet, two weeks later, Sonata is dealing with at least one infected patient and four infected staff, according to the daily report published by the Florida Department of Health. READ FULL STORY


Vero native now a researcher battling coronavirus in lab
week of May 7, 2020

Until scientists better understand the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease and figure out how to treat it and prevent it, the world is somewhat at the mercy of the novel coronavirus. So, it’s fortunate an army of skilled researchers are working to gain that knowledge – including one scientist with deep roots in Vero Beach. Tucked away in a secure laboratory on the campus of Michigan State University, 32-year-old Daniel Vocelle conducts experiments with the live virus that has infected more than 3.5 million worldwide and killed a quarter million people. Managing the university’s Flow Cytometry Core lab was not exactly the career Vocelle pictured for himself back in 2006 when he graduated from Sebastian River High School’s International Baccalaureate program and headed off to Vanderbilt University to earn a degree in chemical engineering. That is because the type of research Vocelle does today was not mainstream when he applied to colleges. “They did not really offer degrees in the field of biomolecular engineering, so I had to wait and go back to graduate school,” Vocelle said. In the meantime, he worked in the Middle East in the oil industry. READ FULL STORY


2 dialysis patients in county test positive for novel coronavirus
week of May 7, 2020

Dialysis clinics, already keenly aware of the dangers of infection, have ramped up precautions after at least two patients receiving the life-giving treatments in Indian River County have been found positive for COVID-19. Both patients were in scenarios considered higher risk for catching the disease. One was a resident in a long-term care facility; the other was someone who travelled back and forth out of state, according to Dr. Saatiah Jaffry, a Sebastian kidney specialist who owns Sebastian Dialysis Care Clinic. The two patients were not part of her practice, and she was not authorized to provide further details. Jaffry said she did not think there were “many more” dialysis patients with the disease here at the moment, but that in neighboring counties, COVID-19 has been hitting highly vulnerable dialysis patients in greater numbers. One of her patients in Brevard County, who had resumed dialysis treatments after traveling internationally, died after testing positive for COVID-19. READ FULL STORY


Pandemic shifts a ‘dream wedding’ to Vero’s South Beach
week of May 7, 2020

Dana and Alex Gold dreamed of getting married in the Bahamas on May 1. The worldwide pandemic blocked them from traveling to the islands, but they were wed on May 1 – on the sand at South Beach Park, just three days after beaches here reopened. “We waited a year and a half to have our dream wedding in the Bahamas,” Dana Gold said. “Since it couldn’t happen there, we were trying to do anything we could to make it happen” somewhere. “It just happened to be the perfect day – the weather, the beach, family, everything,” Dana Gold said. “It just all fell into place.” While not as complicated as the overseas nuptials trip, the beachside ceremony involved Dana’s aunt, Tracy Clifton, becoming an ordained minister online so she could officiate, and her friend, Kelly Olkowski, providing the location. “We got our marriage license early before the courthouse closed,” Dana Gold said. “We just had to make sure we could find a place to get married. My friend Kelly has a condo at Sea Cove” that served as the staging area for the modest ceremony. READ FULL STORY


Students learning at home, but badly miss school and want to go back
week of May 7, 2020

As springtime drifts toward summer, students usually can’t wait for the school year to end. But this year, many Indian River County School District students are pining to get back into the classroom. Learning via computer causes difficulties for some, and others miss their friends and teachers and activities they can’t do at home, like playing jazz with kids in music class or participating in sports. The county’s 18,000 public school students started virtual learning online March 30 when spring break ended with schools remaining closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The school district has since decided online learning will continue through the end of the school year on May 28, and many students and parents said they are now looking ahead and hoping kids will be able to return to their classrooms when the new school year starts Aug. 10. Despite the convenience of online learning, several parents and students said there is no substitute for the expertise and enthusiasm of teachers working with children in a classroom. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River Medical Center nurses on pandemic front lines
week of May 7, 2020

When Steward Health Care – which owns Sebastian River Medical Center – put out a call to its staff to volunteer on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, registered nurses Christine Flick and Amanda Bermudez stepped forward “without reservation,” according to a Steward spokesperson. Along with five other SRMC nurses, they left their homes and families and headed to Massachusetts, the state where Steward Health got its start, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus. It currently has the third highest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation, and the fourth highest number of deaths. Early on in the pandemic, Steward Health made the decision to establish dedicated hospitals for COVID-19 patients in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus and to conserve PPE, or personal protective equipment like masks and gowns. The first of Steward’s eight eastern Massachusetts hospitals to have beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients was Carney Hospital in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. Steward has since added ICUs for COVID-19 patients at three other hospitals. READ FULL STORY


Residential construction going strong on barrier island despite coronavirus
week of May 7, 2020

Construction crews worked full throttle on residential development projects all along the barrier island last week as builders adapted to new social distancing and hygiene standards. While projects are no longer pouring into the development pipeline, construction and sales are expected to continue on new houses and condominiums underway on the island, according to brokers and developers. “From a construction standpoint, we’re moving full speed ahead,” said Yane Zana, president of Coastmark Construction, which is building residential projects. “Luckily for us, the coronavirus has not affected construction in the field so much,” Zana said. “Our crews are careful, they’re in open air, they are taking care of themselves as best they can in this environment.” Coastmark recently started construction on Blue at 8050 Ocean, 21 condominiums with a clubhouse, pool and putting green on a 4.7-acre site at 8050 Highway A1A. Units start at $1,645,000. In addition, the company is moving ahead with plans for Indigo, a luxury subdivision on the old Florida Institute of Technology property next to Indian River County’s Tracking Station Park, Zana said. READ FULL STORY


Peter Benedict, ‘patriarch’ of St. Ed’s, dies at 84
week of May 7, 2020

Peter Benedict wasn’t the founding leader of St. Edward’s School – he arrived on campus in 1969, four years after the school opened its doors – but as news of his death spread through the community last week, the longtime headmaster was remembered as the man who put the private seaside academy on the map. “Peter was the patriarch of the school,” said Bruce Wachter, who spent 45 years at St. Edward’s as a teacher, coach and administrator before retiring in 2018. “He was in the saddle from 1970 through the spring of 1995, and he got virtually every ball rolling. He set the template.” Benedict, who lived on Vero Beach’s barrier island for decades, died on April 25. He was 84. It was Benedict’s lofty vision, relentless drive and hands-on approach that Wachter and others said set the tone for St. Edward’s rise. During his tenure, Benedict carefully nurtured and deftly managed the growth and expansion of a school established in 1965 with 31 students on one campus in grades 3 through 8. When he retired 25 years ago, St. Edward’s had 756 students – pre-kindergarten through 12th grade – on two campuses. READ FULL STORY


High span to replace drawbridge at south end of island
week of April 30, 2020

Big changes are coming to the southern end of the island that will end drawbridge delays for 32963 residents who drive down A1A when headed for Fort Pierce, Stuart and points south. The Florida Department of Transportation has finalized plans to replace the nearly 60-year-old drawbridge that now connects North Hutchinson Island – as the southern end of our island is known – to the Fort Pierce mainland. Construction is set to start in January 2022 on a 4,150-foot-long concrete arch that will soar far above the Intracoastal Waterway navigation channel. The project is expected to be completed by early 2025. The St. Lucie County Transportation Planning Organization voted unanimously this month to approve the design for the $70 million North Causeway Bridge replacement. The new span, which will have a clearance of 85 feet for boats in the channel, will replace a steel and concrete drawbridge built in 1963 that has a clearance of 26 feet when the bridge is down. FDOT considers the drawbridge “structurally and functionally deficient.” READ FULL STORY


Bob McCabe, 80: Philanthropist who was ‘always fun’
week of April 30, 2020

Robert (Bob) Frederick McCabe, 80, an investment banker and venture capitalist who passed away last week, was half of one of Vero’s most philanthropic couples – a jaunty, jovial presence who showed up with wife Eleonora (Ellie) Wahlstrom McCabe at innumerable charity fundraisers where his warmth, humor and generosity endeared him to everyone he met. Local physician Dr. Michaela Scott and her late husband Clinton introduced the couple in 1984. “He was a good friend of my husband’s in Boca Raton; they knew each other quite well,” said Dr. Scott. “We planned a dinner and introduced him to Ellie. It clicked very quickly; they dated immediately after that.” The dates were a success and McCabe moved to Vero Beach to be closer to Ellie. They married nine months after that first dinner with the Scotts. “As far as personalities go, we were ‘A’ and ‘Z’ in the alphabet; I have to say that,” said Ellie McCabe. “I’m very emotional, he was very pragmatic. But we were a good team because we filled in the blanks for the other person. He took very good care of me and I know I was No. 1. He was a good husband and I’m going to miss him very much.” READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infection hits two more Vero elder care facilities
week of April 30, 2020

The novel coronavirus has now spread to two additional Vero Beach long-term care facilities – this time to Palm Garden, the largest and one of the worst-ranked nursing homes in Indian River County, and to Sonata Assisted Living. Residents and their family members at Palm Garden were reportedly notified of the infection last weekend before the nursing home showed up on the state’s list of elder care facilities with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. Though the state did not say whether the case was a resident or staff member, a person connected with the facility said it was a resident. Messages via email and voicemail to Palm Garden manager Edwin Rojas got no response, nor did a message left with a receptionist. Sonata, meantime, reported Monday night that “a resident who had spent an extended time out of the community was proactively tested recently for COVID-19 and unfortunately the results returned positive. The resident and family have been notified and the resident has been quarantined. “Staff are directing all other residents to stay in their apartments, to wear a face mask when out of their apartments and encouraging safe social distancing,” a Sonata spokesperson said. READ FULL STORY

Residents allowed to return to Vero’s island beaches (sort of)
week of April 30, 2020

The sight of island residents this week out walking on our beaches once again was almost reminiscent of the aftermath of a hurricane. We know the drill. The storm passes, the power comes back on, the bridges open, we begin the cleanup, and we walk along the sea marveling that we got off so easy – that everything seems pretty much as it did before. But what worried many longtime residents last week was that the COVID-19 pandemic was more like the storms of 2004, when we were still cleaning up after Hurricane Frances and a couple of weeks later, warnings went up that Hurricane Jeanne was barreling toward Florida’s east coast. If you were here then, you know that sinking “Oh, no. Not this again” feeling. It wasn’t over. We were exposed, roofs still covered in blue tarps. Windows shattered. We were in no shape to handle a second major hurricane after being battered by the first. Knowing that re-opening the economy too hastily could cause a resurgence of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths is obviously a real concern. READ FULL STORY

Healthcare agencies look for new ways to serve during pandemic
week of April 30, 2020

Vero’s nonprofit healthcare agencies, many of which serve as safety nets for the area’s poor, have been dramatically changing their approaches during the COVID-19 pandemic – honoring the wishes of patients who are quarantined and fearful of contagion, but looking for new ways to serve patients at this time of need. Under nerve-wracking circumstances, community clinics worry children aren’t coming in for scheduled immunizations. The VNA is afraid patients will regress without in-home therapy. Healthy Start’s counselors worry they might miss a new mom’s subtle signs of struggle that they typically pick up only in face-to-face encounters. The Senior Resource Association is trying to compensate for the structure and socialization it once provided people with dementia, now restricted to their homes. And the Mental Health Association is treating a new pool of clients: doctors and nurses emotionally taxed by the pandemic. READ FULL STORY

14 arrested in Indian River County for violating stay-at-home order
week of April 30, 2020

As of last weekend, the Sheriff’s Office had charged 13 people with violating Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency stay-at-home order – but all of them were simultaneously charged with committing other crimes. “When we charge someone with violating the order, it’s generally in connection with another offense,” Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Flowers said. “Usually, it’s somebody out doing something stupid in the middle of the night.” The alleged offenses that prompted the arrests included: drug possession, prowling, trespassing on property, fleeing and eluding at high speeds, knowingly driving with a suspended or revoked license, driving an unregistered vehicle, and resisting arrest. Three of those arrested were juveniles. “We’re not out looking to arrest people simply for violating the order, and most people are doing what they’re supposed to do,” Flowers said. “When we do come across individuals who are out when they shouldn’t be, our policy is to go with the three E’s – educate, encourage and enforce. “First, we’ll educate them about the order and why it’s in effect, then encourage them to comply with it,” he added. “If they don’t comply, then we have no choice but to enforce the order. READ FULL STORY


Riomar residents say FPL ‘mangling’ live oaks
week of April 30, 2020

Old Riomar residents are attached to the mature live oaks that are a charming feature of their neighborhood and several outraged homeowners contacted Vero Beach 32963 last week to complain that Florida Power & Light was damaging trees unnecessarily as it trimmed branches near powerlines. In his email, Club Drive resident Allen Morton said the pruning is “detrimental to the beauty of Vero Beach. They are not ‘trimming’ the trees. They are mangling them. One of the things that makes our town beautiful is the trees. FPL is clearly scarring the town with their trimming efforts.” Morgan Morton said she and her husband came home to their house one day last week to find a “butchered” tree. “We were never even alerted. We just happened to get back and there they were. They had already cut so much off and were about to cut more that had nothing to do with the poles. “My husband stopped the crew, telling them, ‘Now you’re getting on our property. You cannot cut anymore. You’ve already ruined this tree.’” READ FULL STORY


Three deaths at HarborChase up county total to 4
week of April 23, 2020

Indian River County had literally been beating the odds with only 85 cases of the coronavirus among our 140,000 residents plus visitors – a much lower rate of infection than in the country as a whole – but this proved no time to celebrate as the past week took a tragic turn with three more deaths confirmed inside a local assisted living facility. At first, Indian River County’s cases were largely travel-related but reports as of Monday night show that we have only had one travel-related case in more than two weeks, meaning the virus has definitely spread in our community in general, making it even more important for seniors and those with chronic health problems or compromised immune systems to stay home. Fortunately, at least one island community full of at-risk people is seeing residents take “Safer at Home” to heart, helping keep the county’s numbers low. “I believe – very strongly – that people here are adhering to the recommendations,” said Indian River Shores Town Manager Joe Griffin. “As you know we have a seasoned (older) population that follows orders. I see it every day so congrats to them.” READ FULL STORY


Did HarborChase conceal COVID-19 infections?
week of April 23, 2020

The novel coronavirus had not even come to Vero Beach when those with relatives in long-term care facilities began bracing for the worst. “Oh, my gosh, I had sleepless nights even back in February. I started thinking, oh, God, I just can’t handle this,” said one island resident with a loved one in HarborChase, an assisted living facility with a memory care unit on Indian River Boulevard. By the second week of April, her days were a waking nightmare as HarborChase became the site of a COVID-19 cluster. What’s worse, no one at the facility had told her. Just how bad a cluster was publicly confirmed over the weekend when Gov. Ron DeSantis finally caved to pressure from a growing group of media outlets threatening legal action, and ordered staff to release the names of Florida’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities where residents had tested positive for COVID-19. In Indian River County, it turned out all seven long-term care cases were at HarborChase. Three of those people have died. READ FULL STORY


County’s first death from coronavirus a ‘good, sweet lady’
week of April 23, 2020

Adele Jeantinor was unable to celebrate her 89th birthday. Instead, she was fighting for her life at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, where she had tested positive for the coronavirus and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Two days later, she was dead. Jeantinor’s April 8 death is believed to have been the first connected to COVID-19 in Indian River County – something her family didn’t know until this past Friday night, when her 36-year-old granddaughter, Idalia Similien, received a phone call from Vero Beach 32963. “The doctor called on April 3 and told me she had tested positive for COVID, but after she passed, nobody told us she was the first one here,” Similien said. “We didn’t see it anywhere.” Jeantinor, who lived with Similien and her husband in their South County home, had been admitted to area hospitals three times previously with respiratory problems related to years of smoking cigarettes before she moved from Haiti to Florida in 2000. As recently as three years ago, Jeantinor spent three nights in what was then Indian River Medical Center. READ FULL STORY


2 local banks capture $79 million to provide paychecks to workers here
week of April 23, 2020

CenterState Bank Executive VP Chris Bieber was in the middle of an interview with Vero Beach 32963 when the news came through. Bieber saw a message pop up on one of his computer screens, looked at his watch and back at the screen. “It may be over,” he said. It was. The $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program created by the federal government to help small businesses weather the coronavirus storm by giving them money for payroll had run out of cash. Luckily for Vero Beach, CenterState and another community bank – Marine Bank & Trust – had made sure businesses here got their fair share, securing almost $80 million in low-interest, forgivable loans for hundreds of local companies before the cash ran out. Working from the pre-dawn hours till late at night during the 13 days the program was active, Marine Bank grabbed $32 million for its customers, according to bank president and CEO Bill Penney. “We were able to get 230 loans approved,” Penney said, noting that the loans went to “a microcosm of the local economy,” from restaurants and retail shops to boat builders and white-collar firms. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island service league issues $200,000 challenge grant to raise money for COVID-19 fund
week of April 23, 2020

The John’s Island Community Service League has issued a $200,000 Challenge Grant to funding organizations to help increase the United Way of Indian River County’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund. Donations to the fund, which was established on March 17, will be matched on a one-to-one basis through June 15. “We believe the United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund is the best way to quickly help those who will be most affected in our community, and we believe this matching challenge will help bring in additional funds,” said Hope Woodhouse, JICSL board president. “We thought that a challenge grant to the other umbrella groups would be a good way to get everybody putting money into the COVID Fund.” The Challenge Grant encourages donations from members of the Funders Forum, which includes umbrella groups such as Quail Valley Charities, Grand Harbor Community Outreach, the Indian River Club’s Head, Heart and Hands, Impact 100 and the Indian River Community Foundation, as well as from such benevolent organizations as Rotary and Exchange Clubs, the Junior League and other community groups. READ FULL STORY


Woman, 82, seeking heart medication pulls pistol in Walgreens drive-through
week of April 23, 2020

A drive to a Walgreens pharmacy to pick up needed heart medication turned into a trip to jail for 82-year-old Olympia Ligor of South Vero. Witnesses say Ligor tried to cut in the drive-through pharmacy line and when she wasn’t allowed to go forward, a verbal argument broke out and, police say, Ligor pulled out a .22 caliber revolver. She was initially charged with misdemeanor improper exhibition of a firearm. Ligor, a retired beachside Realtor who goes by her middle name Judith, said she only had one thing on her mind that day, April 2 – the fact that she was running very low on critical medications for her heart condition. “I just needed to get my pills,” she told Vero Beach 32963. “I’m a lot more worried about the coronavirus than I am this,” Ligor said of the incident, not seeming to truly understand the gravity of what she’s accused of doing. The alleged victim, a Hutchinson Island man, plus his girlfriend and another female witness told Vero Beach police their accounts of what happened when Ligor pulled up in her Honda Odyssey minivan. READ FULL STORY


Is Elite Airways hoping to resume Vero flights?
week of April 23, 2020

As of Monday morning, Elite Airways’ ticketing website was still accepting bookings for flights into and out of Vero Beach from May through the end of the year, despite the City Council’s decision earlier this month to terminate its airport-usage agreement with the Maine-based carrier, which owes the city $35,000 in overdue fees. Does that mean the airline, which provided commercial passenger service at Vero Beach Regional Airport for the past 3 ½ years, might try to reconcile with the city, pay its bill and negotiate a new contract? Elite President and CEO John Pearsall, whose last-gasp offer to wire the funds to cover the airline’s debt was rebuffed by the council at the April 7 meeting where the Council voted to oust Elite, refused to comment. However, City Manager Monte Falls did not rule out such a scenario. “If Elite sent us a check and asked to address the City Council, I’d certainly talk to the council members about it,” Falls said Sunday. “They’d need to make a good-faith effort, which starts with paying what they owe us, but we could get it on the agenda, probably as soon as the May 5 meeting. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council revives stormwater tax proposal voted down in 2017
week of April 23, 2020

While most city residents are in a lockdown situation and are preoccupied with the coronavirus and their health, Vero Beach is rolling out an old plan to tax its utility customers in the city limits. On this Tuesday’s agenda was a staff proposal brought forth by Councilman Joe Graves to impose a stormwater tax of $5 per month or more per customer, to be tacked onto city utility bills or maybe to be assessed on property tax bills as a special assessment. The easier and faster way to charge this tax is on utility bills. The city’s aim is to use the stormwater tax to recover an estimated $600,000 in funds that Vero anticipates it will not be receiving from sales tax and other state tax revenue due to the coronavirus shutdown. If approved, the new tax would become effective Jan. 1. The proposed $5 per month would be per Equivalent Residential Unit, based upon how much the average Vero Beach home is deemed by engineers to add to the stormwater runoff problem, so an individual homeowner or business could pay more or less. READ FULL STORY


Health officials need to be more open about virus
week of April 16, 2020

There were some somber milestones this week, like the passing of an 88-year-old woman – Indian River County’s first death – from complications of COVID-19, or the fact that the county’s number of coronavirus cases was headed over 80. But even more important than those facts are the things we cannot get officials to confirm. We know there were at least five cases of COVID-19 in long-term-care facilities in Indian River County, where our most vulnerable residents live and receive care for chronic ailments and for dementia. We know that five cases were in the same long-term-care facility because Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell spent several hours of his Easter Sunday contacting various officials to try to find out where the outbreak was located. “My phone is going to be ringing off the hook,” Rosell said, anticipating the day when his Indian River Shores residents find out that COVID-19 has spread into the trusted skilled-nursing facilities where their parents, their spouses, their aunts and siblings reside. “I need to know what’s going on so I can give our residents some answers.” READ FULL STORY


Two hospital caregivers tested positive for COVID-19
week of April 16, 2020

The word “happy” seemed to come with both effort and relief as Dr. Greg Rosencrance, president of Cleveland Clinic Indian River, simultaneously confirmed that two of his hospital’s caregivers had tested positive for COVID-19, but that both are now out of the woods. “I’m happy to report both are doing well,” he said in an interview with Vero Beach 32963 last week. “And I’m also happy to report that one is fully recovered and back working with us.” The two positive cases were discovered during “significant testing” of hospital staff, Rosencrance said. That process is about to be improved with test results in a matter of minutes instead of days. Long-awaited rapid testing for the new coronavirus became available last week at the Vero hospital, with results available in five to 13 minutes. At this point, though, supplies of the fast test are limited and its use is being confined to the hospital. “We are currently limiting it to symptomatic caregivers in high-risk areas in the hospital, or to first responders,” Rosencrance said. “It is not available to the community at large or through our drive-through testing.” READ FULL STORY


Coronavirus seen slowing approval of plan for redevelopment of riverfront
week of April 16, 2020

An updated version of the plan for redeveloping the site of Vero’s Big Blue power plant and sewer plant on the Indian River Lagoon should be ready in the next two weeks, but COVID-19 restrictions will likely delay final approval. The final plan must go through at least three levels of approval before it could go on the ballot as a referendum amending the city charter, which protects the riverfront parcels the city owns from being sold, leased or developed for anything but recreational use. But robust public vetting by the Steering Committee, then the Planning and Zoning Commission and finally the Vero Beach City Council can’t really happen under COVID-19 “Safer at Home” restrictions. “Since this is such an important project, we want everyone to have the opportunity to meet in public,” said Vero Planning Director Jason Jeffries. The final wording of the referendum would need to be sent to Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan by August, and Jeffries had hoped to have the complete package to the City Council for final approval by May 5, but the pandemic has extended that timeline. READ FULL STORY


Harbor Branch hopes to tap stimulus research funds
week of April 16, 2020

One consequence of the battle against the COVID-19 virus is increased funding for scientific research, which could ultimately lead not only to squashing the disease but also mitigating the effects of climate change and other human-caused pollution. Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute executive director Dr. Jim Sullivan sees opportunities for the marine institute to tap into money for scientists which was included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act federal stimulus package. “I told our entire faculty, ‘Here is how much money is in each agency’s hands. Start thinking about projects you can do.’ Once the money is released to the scientific community, it will stimulate research for every university, and we’ll be doing it as well,” Sullivan said. “One example is our natural products library. We could now test how some of our natural products could be used against COVID-19.” The natural products library contains chemicals derived from sponges and hundreds of other deep-sea plants and invertebrates that have potential for use in fighting diseases, including cancer and viruses. READ FULL STORY


No follow-through on self-quarantine of out-of-state visitors
week of April 16, 2020

When Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in late March that state police and other officials would intercept Florida visitors from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana at airports and along I-95 and I-10, and order them to self-quarantine for 14 days, it seemed like a forceful but reasonable move that might help slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state. So far, however, it has had zero impact in Indian River County. That’s because no police agency in the county has received any information from the state about people from locations with “substantial community spread” who might have been coming here. The Florida Department of Health says it has collected thousands of traveler forms, which include the drivers’ contact information and trip details, but none of that information is reaching local authorities – at least not here, not yet. Instead of checking up on clearly identified New York or New Jersey visitors coming into the county to ensure they are following the governor’s order to isolate themselves, police have been reduced to fielding calls from residents claiming that suspect out-of-staters are not complying with the law. READ FULL STORY


Faulty unemployment system works best in the wee hours
week of April 16, 2020

Wait ’til the midnight hour to try to sign up for unemployment on Florida’s chronically dysfunctional system, advises a laid-off worker from Sebastian who finally managed to submit an application for benefits. But even those who have successfully negotiated the tricky application process said the state government has not yet notified them when they can expect to start receiving benefit checks. “I haven’t seen a penny yet, no,” Linda Jacobetz said, three weeks after being furloughed from her physical therapy assistant job at Sebastian River Medical Center. While there’s no word yet on when she’ll receive unemployment benefits, or how much she’ll be paid, Jacobetz said she felt fortunate to have successfully filed her application with the state Department of Economic Opportunity. “It took me quite a while because it’s not easy to understand and it was very slow,” Jacobetz said about the unemployment program. “It took me 2 1/2 hours.” What’s her advice to others who have been unable to sign up for unemployment benefits? READ FULL STORY


Alma Lee Loy, 90, ‘Vero’s First Lady,’ dies on Good Friday
week of April 16, 2020

Vero Beach lost one of its greatest treasures with the Good Friday passing of Alma Lee Loy, 90. Born in Vero Beach in 1929, Loy’s legendary and lifelong support of the community she adored earned her the honorific “Vero’s First Lady.” Loy dedicated her entire life to the enrichment of Indian River County and was a leader in the founding and operation of many cultural, environmental and philanthropic organizations and institutions, including McKee Garden, the Environmental Learning Center and the Indian River Community Foundation. She was also a political and business leader, the first woman to serve as president of the IRC Chamber of Commerce and the first female county commissioner. Her efforts earned her innumerable tributes, accolades and awards – including many in her name – but more importantly, the respect of everyone she met. With a warm smile and a throaty “hello darlin’,” Loy could charm anyone into volunteering for a worthy cause or contributing to one of the many philanthropic endeavors she supported. Just her uplifting presence, often attired in a pink blazer, at an event was an indication that the cause was worthy. READ FULL STORY


Tom Bakkedahl hoping to take over as State Attorney after Colton steps down
week of April 16, 2020

At last, it appears to be Tom Bakkedahl’s time. The decision of Bruce Colton not to run for a 10th term as State Attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes Indian River County, has paved the way for his longtime chief assistant, Tom Bakkedahl, to seek the office. “This office will be in very good hands if Tom gets the job,” Colton said of Bakkedahl, 53, who announced his candidacy for State Attorney via a Zoom videoconference shortly after his boss announced his planned retirement via email. “Tom has proven he can do it,” Colton added. “He’s been an outstanding chief assistant for more than 15 years. I believe he’s got the support of the four sheriffs in the circuit. He’s respected by the judges and his fellow attorneys, on both sides. I can’t think of anyone who would do a better job of running the office. “He’s the right choice, and he’s ready.” Colton, meanwhile, said he’s ready to retire when his term ends in January – a decision he reached after turning 73 in late December. READ FULL STORY


Island still has only handful of COVID-19 cases
week of April 9, 2020

While the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indian River County has climbed past 60, the barrier island – where the first local case was discovered just three weeks ago – still is dealing with relatively few infections. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in ZIP code 32963 at press time was somewhere between five and nine. We know the range in 32963 thanks to a new feature of the Florida Department of Health’s online “dashboard” that is updated twice daily. The dashboard shows ranges of cases if the number is below 10, and specific numbers when there are 10 or more cases. The greatest concentration of local cases is in the 32960 ZIP code, or the Vero Beach city limits on the mainland, which at press time reported 27 cases. South Vero has about the same number of cases as the barrier island, and all the other county ZIP codes had fewer than five cases. READ FULL STORY


Type of mask doesn’t matter in battle against COVID-19
week of April 9, 2020

Masks – scarves, bandannas, home-crafted cloth masks, and even a few sturdy N95 respirators – were showing up everywhere in Vero this week after the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance suggesting the use of face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. For months, Americans were told by medical experts, including the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, not to wear a face mask – that masks were “not effective” in protecting the general public. Then on Saturday, Dr. Adams’ advice changed. “In light of new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission,” Adams said. Officials still don’t want the average person wearing medical-grade N95 masks because those continue to be in short supply for hospitals and first responders. Those masks are at this point hard to find and can be expensive due to price gouging. But given the somewhat mixed message on masks, Vero Beach 32963 sought guidance from local healthcare professionals. READ FULL STORY


Ann Marie McCrystal, eternal optimist, looks to the future with hope
week of April 9, 2020

Ann Marie McCrystal doesn’t need to play an accordion on a balcony like upbeat Italians seen in news reports to show her gratitude to caregivers. But she could if anyone asked. Once a cardiothoracic surgery nurse who earned money for nursing school playing the accordion on Miami Beach, McCrystal now is an elected Hospital District trustee. She’s also part of a longtime healthcare power couple in Vero: her husband, Dr. Hugh McCrystal, is a retired urologist and was chief of staff at Indian River Medical Center for two decades. Ann Marie McCrystal’s day job for many years was nurse administrator at her husband’s practice. But she also was co-founder of Vero’s Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice house and was known for volunteering her nursing skills in a pinch, including the time she and the late Pat Moore, a best friend and fellow registered nurse, performed free Pap smears on the VNA’s mobile clinic bus. McCrystal has championed nursing her entire life, but never more than now, as she watches VNA’s home health nurses deploying throughout the county to care for COVID-19 patients quarantined in their homes. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River Medical Center, smaller of county’s hospitals, furloughing staff
week of April 9, 2020

The smaller of the county’s two hospitals, Sebastian River Medical Center, is furloughing workers as parent company Steward Health deals with what it calls the “seismic financial shock of COVID-19,” brought on in part by a drastic fall-off in elective procedures, a mainstay of hospital revenue. Most of the furloughs here and around the country involve non-clinical staff and those who don’t work with patients, according to Steward spokesman Darren Grubb. “This unprecedented global chain of COVID-related events is forcing us to consider all our options,” said Grubb. “We are optimistic about expected federal government assistance to help get us through the crisis. However, even with significant government support Steward must make some difficult decisions. “While painful for us, many hospital systems around the country are taking the same steps. We believe these necessary measures will help us navigate this crisis while keeping our focus on the future – and our ongoing commitment to caring for patients and the communities we serve.” Grubb pointed out the employees will continue to get benefits though they won’t be getting a paycheck. READ FULL STORY


Publix revamps ‘senior shopping’ initiative after rough start
week of April 9, 2020

After mob scenes developed at its first Senior Shopping Hours two weeks ago, Publix officials moved quickly to try to remedy errors and make the well-intentioned initiative safer for shoppers 65 and older, according to the company’s director of communications Maria Brous. It remains to be seen if the changes make the plan a net health benefit. The company announced its plan for special Senior Shopping Hours – 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays – in early March, saying it wanted to “serve our senior population” who are “at increased risk of complications from coronavirus.” The special hours were intended to make shopping less stressful for older customers, including those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19. When the first special shopping day arrived on Tuesday, March 24, though, it turned out to be “a nightmare,” according to shoppers who showed up as early as 6 a.m. in hopes of finding scarce items and shopping in a less crowded environment at the 7 a.m. opening. READ FULL STORY


First week of at-home learning for public school students seen a success
week of April 9, 2020

The first week of at-home learning in Indian River County wasn’t flawless, but the rollout of School Superintendent David Moore’s provisional plan for continuing to educate students during the coronavirus pandemic was more successful than anyone had a right to expect. “We are a model for the nation,” School Board Chairman Laura Zorc said. With Florida’s public schools closed through May 1, the county’s students returned from an extended spring break last week and resumed classes virtually, connecting with teachers via computers and telephones. The online program allows students to take classes using home computers or laptops, including the 6,000-plus laptops distributed by the school district during the break. The district also has made available what Moore called a “paper-based option” for students whose families lack the necessary technology. Moore said 90 percent of the district’s students were connected to the online program by the week’s end, and he expected that number to increase this week. “It was a busy week, but a successful week,” Moore said. “We’re in a really good place, given the reality of this pandemic. We’re prepared to ride this out as long as we need to – not just put a Band-Aid on instruction. READ FULL STORY


Leatherback turtles making early appearance on our quiet beaches
week of April 9, 2020

Amid all the coronavirus news comes this positive bellwether from the sea: Leatherback sea turtles – the largest of the three species seen on Indian River County beaches – are nesting here earlier than in previous years. The endangered reptile, whose tracks resemble bulldozer treads in the sand, laid its first nest of the 2020 season March 10 in Indian River Shores. Five more nests were deposited by mid-March – four in the southern part of the county and one more in the Shores. Then another six were counted through April 3, mostly in the south, for a total of 12 so far. According to Indian River County's Coastal Engineering Division, the earliest leatherback nest previously laid here was on March 11, 2016. “It is extremely difficult to infer if early nesting equates to a bumper nesting season,” according to the county. “However, the outlook is looking good. We are extremely hopeful that we will observe an increase of leatherback nesting this year.” READ FULL STORY


Pet shelters prepare for possible influx of animals if owners fall ill
week of April 9, 2020

Indian River County Animal Control and local animal shelters are preparing for a possible influx of dogs and cats that could come if pet owners become too ill to care for their animals. The Humane Society of Vero Beach, H.A.L.O. No-Kill Rescue in Sebastian, and the For the Love of Paws shelter in Fellsmere said they have not seen a big uptick in animals coming into their facilities, but all of them are thinking ahead in case a surge comes. County Animal Control Manager Jason Ogilvie said his department has not yet seen an increase in calls either but is ready. “We have the equipment and we have the suits. We are prepared,” he told Vero Beach 32963. For the Love of Paws director Ted Pankiewicz said he has seen a significant increase in requests for his organization’s Meals on Wheels service, which provides pet food delivery, as senior pet owners experience the coronavirus lockdown and comply with quarantine directives. READ FULL STORY


Will curbing travel from hotspots help keep COVID-19 at bay?
week of April 2, 2020

Florida, faced with a mounting coronavirus crisis in South Florida yet nearly half its counties relatively unscathed by COVID-19, started the week by opting to “thread the needle” – seeking to protect Floridians while keeping the economy as open as possible. Instead of subjecting all of Florida’s 22 million residents to veritable house arrest for weeks, Gov. Ron DeSantis declined to issue the type of lock-down orders imposed by 30 other states, but partitioned off South Florida trouble spots for the restrictions of a “Safer at Home” order. That does not apply to Indian River County, even though Monday brought us the highest number of new COVID-19 cases here yet – five, raising the pandemic total for this area to 25 with three hospitalizations and no deaths. That compared to a Monday total of 5,704 cases and 71 deaths for all of Florida, with Miami and Fort Lauderdale accounting for about half. To deter tourists and part-time residents from bringing more coronavirus to low-exposure areas like Vero from COVID-19 hotspots like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana, DeSantis ordered the National Guard and state troopers to stop those travelers at airports and highway checkpoints. READ FULL STORY


County’s first responders have sufficient personal protective equipment for now
week of April 2, 2020

It was a close call. Indian River County Fire-Rescue was down to its last week of N95 masks, gowns, suits, goggles, face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE) when a shipment arrived last Thursday. But it was only a temporary fix, as it takes a lot of equipment to protect a force of nearly 250 firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, and to have enough to share with other agencies and healthcare professionals. But every agency in Indian River County that needs the equipment has it right now, Chief Tad Stone said. “Statewide there is a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, but we have sufficient stocks in house today to take us for about the next week and a half to two weeks,” Stone said last Friday. “We got an order yesterday and those are being distributed primarily through the adult living facilities and to the nursing homes throughout the county because they are at the critical shortage right now. We also sent some out to our first-responder agencies and so they have adequate supply.” READ FULL STORY


Piper Aircraft steps up to manufacture face shields needed by Cleveland Clinic
week of April 2, 2020

Piper Aircraft executives already were discussing ways the Vero Beach-based company might be able to ease the shortage of personal protective equipment needed by local healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic when the call came from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital President Greg Rosencrance. He wanted their help. “Funny you should call,” Piper President and CEO Simon Caldecott told him last week. “We’re working on some- thing right now – a prototype for a face shield.” The prototype, designed by Piper’s engineering team, was built using off-the-shelf production materials, such as sheets of clear plastic, industrial tape, foam and elastic. The face shield then was sent to the hospital for evaluation and approval by medical technicians, who made sure the protective device met federal Centers for Disease Control standards. Before the week was through, Piper had assigned a team of workers to a separate manufacturing line at its local factory and begun mass-producing the shields, the first 2,000 of which were scheduled to be delivered to the hospital earlier this week. READ FULL STORY


Behavioral Health Center facing new tests in pandemic
week of April 2, 2020

With emotions on edge, happy hours on hold, finances imperiled and health on the line, even the sunniest dispositions can turn stormy, or worse. Last week, Sheriff Deryl Loar announced an uptick in domestic violence in the county, and there are fears that reports of increased child abuse can’t be far behind. For those with mental or behavioral disorders, conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic pose even more difficult challenges, potentially setting off or adding to suffering that in the best of times requires professional help to manage. “It might exacerbate a current condition,” said Anne Posey, director of the Behavioral Health Center, an inpatient mental health treatment facility across the street from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital that has just been renovated and upgraded. Built in the 1980s and now run by Cleveland Clinic, the 46-bed center is a critical cog in the county’s mental health system. As part of the hospital, it is the county’s only designated Baker Act receiving facility, able to take those children and adults deemed a danger to themselves or others for brief stays under a law that can mandate inpatient mental health treatment with or without the patient’s consent. READ FULL STORY


Hotel space offered to hospital if extra rooms needed
week of April 2, 2020

Keith Kite was mowing his lawn when an idea came to him: With fears of hospitals reaching capacity in the COVID-19 pandemic, why not offer the use of three hotels he manages to Cleveland Clinic Indian River, should they need space for patients or caregivers? Last week, Kite emailed the hospital president Dr. Greg Rosencrance; Jason Brown, county administrator; and Miranda Hawker, head of the county’s Health Department. “We wish to extend our hotel properties to you in your planning and response to COVID-19 here in Indian River County,” Kite proposed. “We have three properties here in the county with very close proximity to Cleveland Clinic that are all well suited for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, patient friends or relatives, caregivers, and first responders,” he wrote. By Friday morning, according to Kite, hospital officials were supposed to be reviewing the concept. “Dr. Rosencrance replied to me and said they were very, very appreciative and they were going to put it in their logistical capability.” READ FULL STORY


Island real estate market remains active despite coronavirus
week of April 2, 2020

While the island is quieter than normal for this time of year, real estate brokers are still showing homes, writing sales contracts and closing deals – all while taking COVID-19 very seriously and operating in ways that keep agents, staff and clients safe. “We are doing business,” says Marsha Sherry, broker at The Moorings Realty Sales Company. “The phone is still ringing, and we are still getting new listings. People know this is temporary.” “Buyers want to buy, and sellers want to sell,” says Buzz MacWilliam, broker at Alex MacWilliam real estate. “We aren’t seeing any panic among our clients.” As of March 26, MacWilliam’s long-established Island firm had written 30 new sales contracts during the month of March. That was down from a company record of 60 contracts in February, but still a substantial amount of business. “The market hasn’t dried up,” MacWilliam says. “It is still there.” “Our business has been holding up relatively well considering the circumstances,” says Dale Sorensen Jr., managing partner at Dale Sorensen Real Estate, noting that his family’s company closed more than $65 million in sales in Indian River County between March 1 and March 28. READ FULL STORY


United Way leads response of nonprofits to COVID-19
week of April 2, 2020

The nonprofit community of Indian River County is taking the disorder created by the COVID-19 pandemic in stride. The message of the men and women who work each day to provide basic necessities to those who need them most is to keep calm and carry on. Business is being conducted in a slightly different fashion, but Indian River County is fortunate to already have the structure in place to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. “We’ve got good networks of funding sources and distribution channels established based on our regular work together with other funders in the community,” says Jeffery Pickering, Indian River Community Foundation President and CEO. “We go through this exercise every year. We’ve got a funding network that’s already primed for doing this kind of activity during hurricane season.” As recent events unfolded and some businesses were forced to shut down, it soon became apparent that Indian River County would feel the impact of this worldwide crisis. The United Way of Indian River County, the Indian River Community Foundation and other funders sprang into action to handle unmet needs related to COVID-19. READ FULL STORY


Vero comes late to the pandemic
week of March 26, 2020

When Dr. Gerald Pierone’s office spoke by phone with a patient in his concierge practice complaining of respiratory symptoms, staff booked a follow-up for her this past Monday morning. Florida had uncovered its first two COVID-19 patients two weeks earlier. But the visit caught Pierone off guard. As he stepped into the exam room, he quickly realized she could be contagious and left to grab protective gear. Turns out she was. Last Thursday, the swab he took showed positive for COVID-19. Pierone, an infectious disease specialist who has worked with thousands of HIV/AIDS patients for more than three decades, is now self-isolating with his family. Until that moment, Indian River County appeared blissfully coronavirus-free – enough that just as the patient was getting sicker and sicker, the Vero Beach Art Club was going forward with its huge Under the Oaks art festival, planning for 50,000 people – until the city’s police chief shut it down after the first day. The drumbeat of cases across Florida signaled a march of the virus from the north, the west and most alarmingly from the south, where the novel coronavirus had a fierce grip on Broward County. With that hotspot 100 plus miles away, Indian River seemed safely insulated by covid-free counties; only the following day would Brevard County to the north declare its first positive. READ FULL STORY

John’s Island bridge player tests positive for novel coronavirus
week of March 26, 2020

Barbara “Pinky” Regan is known for her prowess at the bridge table, her love of gardening and art, and her generous spirit. As of March 19, the 84-year-old John’s Island resident can add to her resume. She was one of the earliest 32963 residents to test positive for COVID-19. While she’s still weak, Regan is recovering at home and has a positive outlook; and her main concern is for anyone she may have unwittingly exposed to the novel coronavirus. As soon as she found out she had tested positive, she notified folks that she’d been in recent contact with. At risk were her fellow bridge players. Regan played in bridge tournaments on March 9 at the Vero Beach Bridge Club, and March 7 and 10 at the Quail Valley River Club. It was the evening of March 10 that she began to feel ill. “Bridge was probably the worst place for me to be. Fortunately, I hadn’t been playing as much as I usually play because I was busy with guests,” says Regan, who has not traveled abroad recently and does not know where she contracted the virus. READ FULL STORY

Grand Harbor couple does right thing in self-isolating
week of March 26, 2020

Now that the global coronavirus pandemic has reached our seaside community, we can take pride and solace in the inspiring examples set by a couple of our first local victims, both of whom responded the way all others should. Promptly. Responsibly. Selflessly. One, John’s Island resident Pinky Regan, 84, spread the word, hoping the immediate notice might prevent the spread of the virus to others in her social network and beyond (see accompanying story). Likewise, Grand Harbor residents Ray and Peg Dutcher quickly figured out what they needed to do after returning from a trip to the Middle East two weeks ago, even though neither was experiencing any coronavirus symptoms when their flight landed in Orlando. “We certainly didn’t get any guidance at the airport,” Peg said. “We traveled to Egypt and Jordan, flew back through Germany, and when we arrived in Orlando, we didn’t see or hear anything from Customs. No signs, no warnings, no nothing.” READ FULL STORY

10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indian River County
week of March 26, 2020

As of press time, Indian River County had 10 positive cases of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) placing our area somewhere in the middle of Florida counties. While we are not quite as blessed as the 21 Florida counties that still had zero cases as of Monday night, watching the nightly television news made it seem like Vero Beach is in a different world than Fort Lauderdale and Miami – the seats of two Florida counties where as of Monday there were more than 500 cases. Of the confirmed cases in Indian River county, four were men and six were women – with the patients ranging in age from 25 to 84. Six of the 10 were reported to have acquired COVID-19 in the course of travels, where four cases were said to be not travel related. At press time, only one of the 10 was reported to be hospitalized. While several of those suffering from COVID-19 live on the barrier island, the state provided no information about the residences of those on the mainland, and it was not known whether either Sebastian or Fellsmere had any cases. READ FULL STORY

No coronavirus cases at the county jail so far, despite extra inmates
week of March 26, 2020

As of Monday, none of the 533 inmates at the Indian River County Jail had been tested for the coronavirus – because, according to Sheriff Deryl Loar, none had displayed any symptoms. “We pre-screen any new inmate in a sterile environment,” Loar said, “before they enter the jail.” As a result of the virus threat, however, the jail is holding eight inmates who normally wouldn’t be there. That’s because the Florida Department of Corrections two weeks ago temporarily stopped accepting new, already-sentenced inmates in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 into the state prison system. Prisoner transfers from county jails to state correctional facilities are scheduled to resume Monday, but DOC officials said in a statement released last week the timeline could change after they consult with public health officials. While Florida sheriffs in some larger counties are concerned the DOC’s suspension of prisoner transfers will cause overcrowded conditions in their jails, Loar said the jail here isn’t at such risk. READ FULL STORY


What caused rift between the Humane Society and county?
week of March 26, 2020

What’s behind the turmoil between the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County that has sparked angry words, threatened the ability of the county to handle stray animals and left both parties feeling blindsided over the past few months? The dustup started when, after a cordial 25-year relationship, the nonprofit organization surprised the county two months ago by announcing it wasn’t renewing its current 3-year agreement with the county to provide “animal sheltering services,” an agreement due to expire April 30. According to a Jan. 16 letter sent to county Director of Emergency Services Tad Stone by Humane Society Executive Director Kate Meghji and Board President Susan Smith, the decision was made because “a lack of shared vision for the animals of Indian River County with County staff is too much of a barrier to overcome.” The letter added that, with a new executive director at the helm, “improved shelter standards and operations to meet best practices,” and a new leadership team of “animal welfare and nonprofit experts,” the Human Society is moving in a different direction. READ FULL STORY


Father Richard Murphy dead at 80
week of March 26, 2020

Father Richard Murphy, longtime pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church, died Sunday at Hospice House. He was 80. Murphy was the pastor of Holy Cross for nearly 23 years, the church's parish administrator Debbie True said. “I will miss everything about him. He was such a fantastic leader,” said True, who worked with Murphy. “He cared about the parishioners and they cared about him. He believed we needed to reach out to people in the community whenever there was a need.” True, who later became Murphy’s caregiver, said Murphy was battling a chronic illness. His death was not related to the coronavirus, True confirmed. “He really cared about Vero Beach,” True said. “He was a private person who didn't like accolades or awards. He did stuff from the heart.” Murphy, born in Ireland, was ordained as a priest in 1965 at St. Peter’s Seminary in Wexford. He then relocated to south Florida, where he served in parishes in Miami, Pompano Beach, Lake Worth, Boca Raton, Stuart and Vero Beach. Church officials said a funeral service for Murphy will be held at Holy Cross when coronavirus concerns and restrictions ease. Those who want to make donations in Murphy’s memory can contact the Arc of Indian River County at 772-562-6854. READ FULL STORY


Set up telehealth account now! You may need it later
week of March 19, 2020

With experts urging people to use telemedicine to be evaluated if they have early symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, one productive way to pass some time while staying home is to set up a telehealth account while you’re feeling well. Virtual visits are available through the websites of many insurance providers, including Aetna, United Healthcare and Florida Blue. Telehealth is also available through the CVS website, available 24/7 for $59. There was only a 20-minute wait on the site Monday, but patients need to set up an account, which takes some time and might be best done when people are clear-headed and symptom-free. Cleveland Clinic also has a 24/7 telehealth initiative, Express Care Online. “They’ve really ramped up the staffing for that service,” said spokeswoman Angela Dickens. Setting up an account for any telehealth service can involve downloading an app on a smartphone or other mobile device. Information about insurance and medical history may be required. Typically, sign-up takes about 10 to 20 minutes. The patient can then make an appointment for a visit or wait on the spot for one to open up – a sampling earlier this week showed online waits between 10 and 20 minutes. READ FULL STORY


Island’s private clubs cutting back as precaution
week of March 19, 2020

Even though the Vero barrier island started the week as one of the increasingly few places in Florida not yet hit by the coronavirus, most of the island’s private clubs took the precautionary step of shutting down their dine-in facilities, closing clubhouses and fitness centers, and severely cutting back on the golf, tennis and beach-club operations. And in a blow to the island economy, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort – one of the three major resort hotels in 32963 – announced that it would be closing its doors to guests at 5 p.m. Friday in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “This is happening at a really bad time,” Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club General Manager Rob Tench said, referring to the pandemic hitting during the heart of the busy season. “We’re doing what needs to be done to keep our members and employees safe, but the clubs are losing a lot of bookings, a lot of revenue. “When you look at the financial impact of this thing, it’s going to cost clubs hundreds of thousands of dollars.” READ FULL STORY


For a magic moment, Vero still sits in coronavirus-free ‘bubble’
week of March 19, 2020

Vero Beach often seems isolated from a lot of bad things that plague other parts of Florida, and for now at least, our community appears to sit in a relatively disease-free “bubble” away from active outbreaks of the Novel Coronavirus. As of Monday night, Indian River County had zero confirmed cases, and neither did the county’s neighbor to the south, St. Lucie County. Brevard County to the north this week reported one. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged all Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people, stay out of restaurants and bars, and cancel all unnecessary travel anywhere, Vero locals were still dining out, going to the gym, to the library, shopping and getting their cars detailed. All city and county offices were open for business early this week including walk-up utility payments, and license tag renewals, as was the courthouse except for jury trials. Stores, restaurants, post offices and banks were open, though banking customers were being steered toward drive-up services. READ FULL STORY


School of choice initiative is moving full STEAM ahead
week of March 19, 2020

Beachland Elementary is branding itself as a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics School of Enrichment, principal Rachel Finnegan told the County School Board last week. At Beachland, students “will develop their skills through robotics, arts, engineering and hands-on learning experiences using the hydroponic garden, outdoor classroom experiences, and partnerships with Vero Beach Museum of Art and Riverside Theatre,” she said. The move comes as part of Superintendent David Moore’s ambitious school of choice initiative, which was set to debut at a large public event last weekend. That event, intended to promote schools of choice in the district and showcase new and innovative curriculum, was canceled due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. But Moore is encouraging residents to visit the district’s website to learn about application procedures and deadlines for the 2020-21 school year. Parents can also fill out online applications to send their children to the school of their choice. READ FULL STORY


Drive underway to create mental health ‘center of excellence’
week of March 19, 2020

Dream big, then make things happen. In the same Vero tradition that produced centers of excellence for treating cancer, heart disease and stroke at a hospital that – thanks to another big dream – is now run by the Cleveland Clinic, a drive is underway to create a center of excellence for mental health. Though discussions, led by the Hospital District, are only at the conceptual stage, the hope is that such a campus would be located near the hospital. It would include a wide range of services, including 24/7 outpatient mental healthcare and inpatient detox, and an education component involving community outreach, as well as research and training opportunities for mental health practitioners. Drawing inspiration from a table-top model of a recovery center that was never built, more than a dozen leaders of mental health-related organizations gathered around a conference table at Hospital District offices last week to start putting pen to paper on just what an ideal center would look like. READ FULL STORY


Island’s two busiest intersections to get extended turn lanes
week of March 19, 2020

Bottlenecks at the two busiest intersections on the island could become a just a bad memory for motorists after the Florida Department of Transportation completes planned work at the frequently jammed junctions. Heavy in-season congestion that requires sitting through several traffic light cycles at A1A and Beachland Boulevard, and A1A and 17th Street, won’t end until at least 2022, when FDOT is slated to start a $4.7 million project to extend turn lanes and make other improvements at the intersections. Right now, surveys are being conducted by the state to determine how far to extend westbound turn lanes from A1A onto Beachland Boulevard and 17th Street, and northbound turn lanes from Beachland Boulevard and 17th Street onto A1A , FDOT project managers said. Project designs for the intersections are slated for completion by November 2021 with construction to start the following year. The existing four turn lanes – which are inadequate to handle the current traffic – range in length from 122 feet to 262 feet, FDOT officials said. As part of the project, A1A between Beachland Boulevard and 17th Street will be resurfaced, and existing 4-foot-wide bicycle lanes will be expanded to 7 feet. READ FULL STORY


Construction of ELC centerpiece pavilion set for fall
week of March 19, 2020

Construction of the education and event pavilion that will be the centerpiece of the Environmental Learning Center’s multimillion-dollar master plan expansion is scheduled to get under way by fall and be completed in the first quarter of 2021, according to ELC leaders. Conceived over several years, the ambitious project is intended to bring the county’s flagship environmental organization “to the next level, as a major, regional environmental education resource,” Executive Director Barbara Schlitt Ford said. Located on a 64-acre property on an island in the Indian River Lagoon, the nonprofit ELC was founded in 1988 by members of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, with strong community support, which continues to this day. The pavilion project was funded by a $1 million donation from local resident Tom Schidel and will be named the Thomas R. Schidel Education and Event Pavilion. A members-only BBQ is scheduled to take place April 4 on the pavilion construction site, with Schidel as guest of honor, though plans could change due to the COVID-19 precautions. READ FULL STORY


Norovirus gives eldercare facilities not-so-dry run
week of March 12, 2020

It was a dry run nobody wanted to have. Even as a nursing home has emerged as the epicenter of a COVID-19 outbreak in Washington state, a different virus – norovirus, the highly contagious stomach bug that comes on quickly and dramatically – has been tearing through multiple facilities in Vero Beach. The virus, perhaps best known for its outbreaks on cruise ships, has sent a stream of seniors to the hospital, put others in quarantine, and has cleaning staffs scouring surfaces from elevator buttons to saltshakers. More than 200 residents of the Isles of Vero in both independent and assisted living were still confined to their apartments as of late Monday after 32 people came down with gastrointestinal illness last week. Over the weekend, residents were notified by letter that Isles management hoped to be able to get back to normal by mid-week. A couple of miles west at The Brennity, residents were over their earlier “flu shut-down,” according to the family of one couple living there. READ FULL STORY


Seminoles weigh suits to shut down illegal slots here
week of March 12, 2020

It will be game over for gambling arcades blatantly breaking state law in Indian River County if the Seminole Tribe of Florida gets its way, a lawyer for the tribe said after learning about the illegal businesses from a Vero Beach 32963 investigation. The tribe’s outside legal counsel Barry Richard was surprised to find out that several of the county’s roughly 18 adult arcades are violating state laws prohibiting cash payouts and slot-style machines – which the tribe has exclusive rights to operate. At least five adult arcades in the county are mini Sin Cities with glitzy slots, ATMs on site and hefty cash payouts, sometimes as high as $6,000, Vero Beach 32963 found. The tribe, which operates seven casinos in the southern part of Florida including the huge Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, is considering taking legal action against the illicit arcades in Indian River County, the tribe’s Tallahassee-based lawyer said. “The tribe hasn’t made a decision yet as to what to do or where, but it’s an issue that we’re going to take up,” Richard said, adding “these people are just blatantly violating Florida law and nobody should be able to violate the law with impunity.” READ FULL STORY


Upgrades in progress at five private clubs
week of March 12, 2020

Private clubs on the mainland and up and down the island from Windsor to The Moorings are sprucing up their properties, building new facilities and expanding their programs to stay relevant in a highly competitive environment. Work on Vero Beach Country Club’s $3.8 million expansion and revitalization project is ahead of schedule, General Manager Tim Straley said last week, and the new amenities should be open and operating in October. “Barring any interruptions by Mother Nature,” Straley added, referring to possible hurricane-related delays this summer. Construction on a new 4,500-square-foot fitness center, 1,500-square-foot Key West-style tiki bar and 450-square-foot snack bar began in January. The walls are up, and the buildings are taking shape. Excavation for a 3,100-square-foot, resort-style pool is scheduled for late April. “Historically, we’ve been a Florida golf club, which served us well for nearly 100 years, but we don’t believe it will take us through the next 100,” Straley said. “We need to become more family-friendly to attract younger members, and these new facilities will enable us to do that. READ FULL STORY


Health officials urge seniors to avoid large gatherings and close contact
week of March 12, 2020

As the number of cases of coronavirus continued to swell, Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday declared a state of emergency for Florida. And the target audience of the most pointed advice from health officials was the state’s seniors – the 20 percent of the population likely to suffer the most from COVID-19. People who are older or have underlying health conditions – heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and immune disorders – disproportionately need hospitalization to battle the virus. “Early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness,” the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said. Young, healthy adults and kids can get infected and spread the virus, but they rarely have a bad case that requires a hospital stay. Those people should stay home from school or work when ill, and be very careful to avoid infecting an older or medically vulnerable person. But Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, had different advice for seniors. READ FULL STORY

Local drinking water supply not threatened by coronavirus
week of March 12, 2020

Water is one of those items Floridians instinctively grab at the store whenever there is the whiff of a crisis, but city and county utility directors say there’s no need to stock up on bottled stuff due to COVID-19. Rob Bolton, director of Vero Beach Utilities which serves most of the barrier island with drinking water, said he sees no supply-chain issues related to Chinese-made goods that might be needed to keep Vero’s water treatment program running normally. “The City is not aware of any chemical shortages,” Bolton said. If workers become ill or need to stay home for observation because they’ve had close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, there is a plan to keep the water plants running. “As far as operators, the City has enough licensed operators to cover shifts even if some get isolated,” Bolton said. “As we do for any emergency situation, the City and County can share resources such as operators, equipment and chemicals if needed (In case there is some type of large outbreak).” READ FULL STORY

If coronavirus closes schools, Internet may not be alternative here
week of March 12, 2020

Officials at Indian River County School District and St. Edward’s School say if their schools are forced to shut down due to coronavirus, the school year will likely expand into the summer. Public and private school officials say they are trying to craft plans that would allow students to study and submit schoolwork to teachers via the Internet, but acknowledge those plans are unlikely to work. “Unfortunately, some of our students don’t have Internet access or computers at home,” said Monica Jennings, director of marketing at St. Edward’s. “It’s one of the hurdles we’re faced with.” Indian River School District already has a portal in place that allows students to submit homework, said Christen Maddox, the district’s public information officer. But the district faces the same challenge as St. Ed’s on a greater scale – many students don’t have Internet access at home. “Superintendent Moore has talked about renting building space where students could go to do their work and have Internet access,” Maddox said. “But we realize that’s kind of unrealistic – if the coronavirus virus did happen here, it wouldn’t be just schools that are affected, it would be a community-wide shut down.” READ FULL STORY


Scientist: Water to flush Bethel Creek would only flow one way
week of March 12, 2020

The scientist in charge of an $800,000 state-funded research project looking at the feasibility of flushing Bethel Creek with ocean water provided an overview of the project last week, and said water would flow only one way at the site – from the ocean into the creek, and not back and forth. Some have objected to the flushing proposal out of fear that lagoon pollution could contaminate Vero’s beaches, but that would not be the case, according to Dr. Gary Zarillo, professor of oceanography at Florida Institute of Technology, who spoke in county commission chambers March 4. "What I envision is a series of controlled structures connecting the ocean with the Indian River Lagoon that can be operated on a schedule or when needed," Zarillo said. "A one-way exchange from the ocean side to the estuary side." He assured a large audience of government officials, environmentalists and others in the county commission chambers on March 4 that beach restoration projects would not be impacted. READ FULL STORY


Barrier island Democrats bet on Joe Biden ahead of primary
week of March 12, 2020

As early voting in Florida’s presidential primary got underway Saturday, Democrats on Indian River County’s barrier island had already indicated their preferred candidate, overwhelmingly backing establishment standard-bearer Joe Biden over democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Biden’s campaign had received $29,595 in donations from 25 island residents as of Saturday, Federal Elections Commission records show. Sanders’ campaign, by contrast, had collected donations totaling $1,293 from four island residents. Meanwhile, President Donald J. Trump’s campaign received $107,550 in contributions from 124 residents in the 32963 ZIP code, more than the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates combined. Among the Democratic candidates, only self-funded billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer – who both got nothing – and Andrew Yang, who got $312, received less support from barrier island contributors than Sanders. READ FULL STORY


School superintendent apologizes after losing temper at meeting
week of March 12, 2020

Superintendent David Moore has moved quickly to put a controversy behind him, publicly apologizing for a heated exchange with black leaders when they pressed him for details about the district’s African American Achievement Plan during a recent meeting. Moore lost his temper and argued with residents for about 20 minutes at the Indian River County School District meeting at Gifford Youth Achievement Center on March 2. “I’m ready to get to work, let’s get to work,” an agitated Moore said, as he loudly talked over residents trying to ask questions about the plan. “I’m tired of talking. We’ve talked about the issues enough. The time for talking is over. The time for implementation is now.” Instead of ending the discussion, his curt response fanned the flames of discontent among the two-dozen people in attendance. Before Moore’s outburst, some at the meeting were already grumbling out loud about the meeting. The presentation was initially conducted by Brian McManus, a data analyst for the district. But Moore took over about midway through the 75-minute presentation as the audience’s discontent became apparent. READ FULL STORY


Failing grades for Vero’s large nursing homes
week of March 5, 2020

As coronavirus spreads among vulnerable groups of Americans, as many as 450 of Vero’s most frail residents are living in nursing homes with failing grades. The three largest nursing homes of the six in Indian River County have earned the worst possible rating on the federal Nursing Home Compare star rating system, compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That translates to two-thirds of the county’s nursing home beds with a quality score in the bottom 20 percent nationwide. All three of the one-star nursing homes – Consulate, Palm Garden and Sea Breeze – are in sight of Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, which regularly discharges patients to the facilities with guidance that does not warn patients or families of the abysmal ratings on CMS’s Nursing Home Compare website. The CMS ratings giving the three facilities one star out of a possible five rely on the most recent three years of inspections done by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. All three nursing homes have been inspected in the past 10 weeks. READ FULL STORY


Youth Sailing boathouse vital part of Centennial Place
week of March 5, 2020

Things got tense last week when the committee charged with overseeing Vero’s Centennial Place project initially decided a new $2.5-million headquarters and boathouse for the Youth Sailing Foundation should be pushed out of the main development area and built south of the 17th Street bridge on the site of the wastewater plant. That consensus provoked an emotional response from architect Andre Duany, whose firm DPZ CoDesign was hired by the city to come up with a redevelopment design for the project on Indian River Boulevard, which includes the site of the shuttered “Big Blue” power plant and the city sewer plant. Duany, whose widely-praised mixed-use plan was presented to the city last month, had placed the Youth Sailing headquarters on the existing harbor behind the power plant, in the midst of restaurants, shops, a marina and other features. He told the committee the Youth Sailing facility is a vital part of the plan because it would bring people to the site continuously. READ FULL STORY


Black achievement plan approved by the School Board
week of March 5, 2020

Aiming to reduce the achievement gap between black and white students, the School District will eliminate out-of-school suspensions, begin preparing black students for advanced classes and rigorously hold principals and teachers accountable for student success. The initiatives are part of an updated African American Achievement Plan unanimously approved by the School Board on Feb. 25. “I’m excited,” Superintendent David Moore told the board. This is the first opportunity to move from planning to implementing. This is a united plan to move us forward as a district. A plan that speaks to equity. A plan to ensure that every student has the same opportunities.” Moore and his top administrators created the updated plan, which is now aligned with goals adopted by the district’s equity committee. It also puts school officials on a clearer path to meet the requirements set forth in a 52-year-old federal desegregation order that the district has labored under since the 1960s. Board member Jacqueline Rosario applauded Moore and his administrators on the updated plan, after efforts to improve and implement the plan floundered for several years under the leadership of former Superintendent Mark Rendell. READ FULL STORY


What you need to know as COVID-19 approaches Vero
week of March 5, 2020

In the past week, confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) – which started only a couple of months ago in China – made their first appearance on the U.S. West Coast, and then just days later made it to the West Coast of Florida. Health officials at all levels of government expect the number of U.S. cases to increase rapidly now that testing is more widely available, and it seems highly likely that at some point COVID-19 will be found to have reached the Treasure Coast. How worried should Vero Beach residents be about this virus? How should you prepare for its possible arrival here? How can you and your family members avoid COVID-19? What should you do if you think you have it? What will its impact be on life in our community? The answer to these questions will change from week to week. As this situation evolves, we will try in this column to provide the latest best information from health officials on COVID-19 and Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Piper Aircraft: No business interruptions thus far because of coronavirus in China
week of March 5, 2020

Piper Aircraft withdrew from the Singapore Airshow 2020 last month because of the health threat posed by the COVID-19 coronavirus, but the pandemic spawned in China has not yet impacted operations at the company’s Vero Beach manufacturing complex. “We sell our products to a worldwide market, so there’s no doubt we’re watching this thing, especially as it expands beyond China’s borders, because we need to be ready to respond accordingly,” said Jackie Carlon, Piper’s marketing and communications director. “But as of right now, it’s not having any effect on our operations here. “We haven’t had any business interruptions because of the virus.” While Piper has existing contracts with Chinese buyers – most of those agreements are to supply trainer airplanes to flight schools – no new deliveries are scheduled until late August and early September, so there’s no need for company employees to travel there. In fact, Carlon said most of Piper’s China-bound products are disassembled, placed in containers and transported to their destination, where the planes are then reassembled. Also, the company has a China-based dealer that handles much of its business there. READ FULL STORY


Brian Burkeen sentencing for tire thefts set for April 30
week of March 5, 2020

Judge Dan Vaughn is set to sentence former County Fire-Rescue Assistant Chief Brian Burkeen to prison on April 30 after Burkeen pleaded no contest Monday to stealing more than a quarter million dollars’ worth of tires paid for by local taxpayers. Burkeen, a Fellsmere resident, was scheduled to go to trial on March 9 and Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said after the plea hearing, “We were locked and loaded, ready to try this case.” Vaughn instructed Burkeen about all the rights he was giving up by pleading no contest – the right to a trial by jury, the right to remain silent, the right to face his accusers and cross-examine witnesses, and most of all his presumption of innocence. The lightest sentence Vaughn can impose for the charge of first-degree felony theft by a scheme to defraud is 48 months in prison. Since this is a first offense for Burkeen, it’s not expected that he will get the full 30-year maximum sentence. READ FULL STORY


Beachside businesses may have to chip in to expand parking
week of March 5, 2020

Beachside business owners might have to chip in to help cover the cost of adding parking spaces they say they desperately need to avoid losing business. City officials are considering several financing options – including implementing a special assessment for business owners – to pay for the addition of 79 parking spaces in front of multi-family housing or commercial buildings on east-west streets near the problem area of Ocean and Cardinal drives. The spaces would cost around $400,000 for curbing, gutters and pavement, along with an estimated $125,000 for engineering services, but the city has no dedicated funding for the project, so it might ask shop owners to pitch in. “We should be paying 50 percent of it ... and I would encourage staff to come up with a way they think is reasonable and bring it back to us to for the other 50 percent,” Councilman Robert Brackett said. City staff also are considering a special taxing district. Details about the potential district, which would entail a geographical boundary and require funds collected annually to be spent solely on parking – will likely be presented to the City Council for consideration at its March 17 meeting, city officials said. READ FULL STORY


County: State must make sure railroad crossings are safe for Virgin’s high-speed trains
week of March 5, 2020

Florida transportation chiefs are downplaying their duty to oversee railroad crossing safety as Virgin Trains USA prepares to run 34 high-speed trains per day through Indian River County’s 32 crossings, said county Public Works Director Rich Szpyrka. Virgin Trains is upgrading the Florida East Coast Railway tracks from West Palm Beach to Cocoa and constructing new tracks from Cocoa to Orlando to complete a Miami-to-Orlando route. But Florida Department of Transportation has not used its authority to ensure the railroad crossings are safe enough for trains travelling 110 mph, Szpyrka told the Florida Transportation Commission. “It seems that FDOT doesn’t believe they are responsible for overseeing those [railroad crossings],” Spyrka told the commission on Feb. 24. “We had a problem with FDOT coming up, staying up and doing what we believe is in the Florida Statutes for them to do. “I know DOT doesn’t like to go up against FEC,” Szpryka said during a meeting on rail safety. “[But] they’ve got to stand up and they’ve got to help the locals and they’ve got to help their own railroad crossings and make sure that they’re safe for all of the residents of the state of Florida.” READ FULL STORY


Sheriff gives pass to local arcades on illegal slots
week of February 27, 2020

In Indian River County, arcades conducting illegal gambling operate in plain sight in strip malls and gas station plazas without interference from law enforcement, a Vero Beach 32963 investigation has found. As part of an agreement with the Seminole tribe in 2013, the Florida Legislature passed a law clearly prohibiting adult arcades from operating slot machines or other games of chance and paying winners in cash or expensive prizes. Under the law, adult arcades – there are 18 in Indian River County – are only allowed to operate games of skill, and can only give out non-cash prizes valued at no more than $6. But 32963 found numerous arcades operating illegal games of chance, including penny slot machines similar to those found in casinos, and openly offering and paying out large cash prizes, which multiple sources said sometimes amount to thousands of dollars. At five arcades visited by two reporters, multiple players reported winning cash prizes on slot machines, employees admitted paying out cash prizes and, in some cases, signs were posted inside and even outside in front of arcades promising cash prizes up to $5,000. READ FULL STORY


Island sees boom in new home construction
week of February 27, 2020

Homebuilding has ramped up dramatically on the island and buyers have more new home choices today than at any time since the real estate downturn in the mid-2000s. Ten active subdivisions on the island will deliver approximately 220 new homes over the next few years, and three more major residential projects in the planning and permitting stages are expected to bring another 100 or so homes to market. Prices range from about $600,000 up to $8.5 million, but most of the homes – which include townhouses and ultra-luxury condos – are priced between $800,000 and $2 million, with another sizable number in the $2 million to $4 million range. “This is the largest number of new homes we’ve seen at once in a long time,” says Premier Estate Properties broker-associate Cindy O’Dare, “but I think our market can handle it. More and more buyers are coming to Vero because of our wonderful lifestyle.” “This is the most we have seen in at least 10 years,” says Sally Daley of Daley & Company Real Estate. “The delta between the cost of new construction and what it costs to buy an older home and fix it up has narrowed and that makes new homes more attractive to buyers.” READ FULL STORY


Lawnwood’s new Emergency Room battles Cleveland Clinic for patients
week of February 27, 2020

Indian River County’s first freestanding emergency room opened on South U.S. 1 last December under the banner Vero Beach Emergency Room – signage that didn’t clearly indicate the facility is owned and operated by Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, located 12 miles south in St. Lucie County. For weeks after the Lawnwood ER opened, residents south of 8th Street with lower-level emergencies were automatically taken to that new facility when they dialed 911 for an ambulance. Only if they requested to go to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital were they taken there. That policy was enacted by county emergency management officials after meeting Lawnwood’s CEO, Eric Goldman, and touring the freestanding ER just before it opened. Now that policy has changed, following protests by the Indian River Hospital District. When EMTs pick up South County patients, they will explain ER options and let patients choose where they want to go whenever feasible, with Cleveland Clinic – not the new ER – being the default. Residents will also get an explanation from ambulance drivers of just who owns the freestanding ER: Lawnwood. As it is, patients must squint to see the very fine print that explains that Vero Beach Emergency Room is a “campus” of Lawnwood. READ FULL STORY


Retired asst. fire chief headed for trial by tire | NEWS ANALYSIS
week of February 27, 2020

Last week, Indian River County Fire Rescue’s former second in command, Brian Burkeen, was rumored to have signed a plea deal. Then the plea deal was mysteriously called off, and the March 9 trial was back on. Burkeen could make an awful lot of people happy by entering a guilty plea on charges of stealing a quarter million dollars in tires purchased using taxpayer money. If the trial goes forward, it will make the county government, not to mention Burkeen’s old boss, retired Fire Chief John King, look either incredibly corrupt or incredibly stupid – or maybe both. Investigators say Burkeen presented Goodyear with $288,000 in county purchase orders for more than 1,400 tires that the county did not need, carried the tires off by hand, transported them in his county-owned work truck and in a county-owned trailer to his personal barn in Fellsmere, and sold them to people he knew though Facebook. He allegedly got away with doing this for nearly four years. The allegations, if true, make the leadership of the Indian River County Emergency Services District appear clueless. READ FULL STORY


HUD report: Unsheltered homeless here highest in the country
week of February 27, 2020

“This is something we desperately need to look at,” said Vero Beach Vice Mayor Tony Young when he learned that the Treasure Coast, including Indian River County, has the highest percentage of unsheltered homeless people of any suburban area in the United States. The dismal distinction was included in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, which found that 93 percent of homeless people in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties are unsheltered, sleeping in the woods, in cars or on the streets. The Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council, which is the lead organization here to report homeless statistics to HUD, conducts an annual survey to determine the area’s homeless population. The agency’s 2019 Point in Time Count taken on Jan. 29, 2019, revealed a total of 1,499 individuals – 1042 adults and 457 children – are homeless on the Treasure Coast, a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. Homelessness in Indian River County, however, climbed from 447 individuals to 486 last year. READ FULL STORY


Could teachers find a home at the Indian River Mall?
week of February 27, 2020

Does it make any sense to attempt to convert vacant retail space at the languishing Indian River Mall into apartments for teachers? That’s one possibility being considered by the Indian River County School Board, which believes creating more affordable housing in Vero Beach would help the district recruit new teachers and retain current instructors. The board recently agreed to form a committee, which will include board members, teachers and community representatives, to explore different affordable housing options – including building apartments in the former department store buildings vacated, or soon to be vacated, by Sears and Macy’s. “Finding affordable housing in Vero Beach can be very difficult, especially for someone on a teacher’s salary,” said board member Teri Barenborg, who proposed the idea during the board’s Feb. 11 work session. “Many teachers can’t afford to live and work here.” Liz Cannon, president of the districts’ teachers union, could not be reached for comment. Superintendent David Moore, who expressed support for the idea, said the issue of affordable housing for teachers is one many districts are facing. Moore said his previous employer, Miami-Dade School District, created housing for teachers that has been very successful. READ FULL STORY


Accused island fraudster said to have violated long-standing trust
week of February 27, 2020

The son of one of accused fraudster Christopher Delaney’s alleged victims says Delaney violated a trusted relationship built up with his family over three decades. Michael Hawxhurst said he and his mother Rita Hawxhurst met Delaney through a cousin who had been a client of his in New York. Before branching out to Vero Beach via a series of investment seminars held for high-net-worth clients, Delaney worked as a financial advisor out of White Plains, N.Y., offices. “We have known him for at least 30 years,” said Hawxhurst, who recalled meeting numerous times at his mother’s home with Delaney to discuss her investments, plus corresponding with him by email over the years. Hawxhurst said Delaney had always been very professional and personable, and said he even invested some of his own money with Delaney at one point. Today, Delaney, 64, sits in the Indian River County Jail awaiting trial in two different theft cases. In the first case, he’s charged with bilking clients out of nearly a half million dollars invested in a reality television show called “Jet Set” that was never produced. In the second, he is charged with defrauding Hawxhurst’s mother, an 85-year-old New York woman, of $188,000 she invested in Delaney’s company, Treasure Coast Capital and Trust, which operated out of a Vero beachside office. READ FULL STORY