While the 4th of July occurring on a weekend should be an exciting time to celebrate the birth of our nation with friends and family, it comes with dark clouds that have nothing to do with the afternoon thunderstorms we should expect the first week of July.

At the same time, the number of new COVID-19 cases, and the percentage of positive tests, continue to rise, prompting officials to stress that people act smart and sensibly this weekend.

The county has record 790 new cases in the last week, the highest weekly total since the pandemic started, Osceola County Health Department Director Vianca McCluskey reported.

“It is critical everyone take precautions, and gather safely,” she said. “The more you interact with people, and the longer your interact, the longer you run the risk of exposure.”

County Commission Chair Viviana Janer and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez urged residents to wear face coverings, as well as maintain their social distance and practice vigilant hand hygiene.

“The request to wear masks is not a punishment, it’s a way to be mindful of others and a sign of respect as we try to protect one another in slowly the community spread of this virus,” Janer said.

“If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus, get a test,” she also said, reminding that COVID-19 testing will be available without appointments or symptoms at Osceola Heritage Park Monday through Friday next week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. A full list of testing opportunities is listed at www.osceola.org/covid19testing

“It is difficult to know who is sick in large groups,” said Alvarez, who encouraged residents to avoid big weekend parties. “It is important to protect one another and help the community fight the spread of the virus.”

Sheriff Russ Gibson said he’s received no complaints of bars and restaurants violating state mandates of 50 occupancy and only serving seated customers at bars inside restaurants. He said 11 members of the Sheriff’s Office have tested positive.

After the weekend, business owners who have been negatively affected by COVID-19 closures or a downturn in business to apply for assistance packages available in the cities of St. Cloud and Kissimmee and one offered by Osceola County, which is now available to businesses across the county.

If you’re a business or organization within Osceola County apply at https://www.weveopenedsafely.com/grant-program. If you are a business within the St. Cloud city limits go here: http://stcloud.org/CivicAlerts.aspx. 

Depending on the size of the business, $2,500 to $10,000 in reimbursement assistance is available. The fairly-simple application process is ongoing; in St. Cloud, Economic Development and Special Projects Manager Antranette Forbes said only about 30 applications have been received.

Also on Monday, those in unincorporated Osceola County can log on to Housing.Osceola.org to apply for rental and mortgage assistance. While 500 applicants will receive funds, the county will do a lottery to choose recipients instead of seeing an overwhelmed system run out of assistance in minutes. You will be eligible for the lottery if you get your application and supporting documents in by 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 9.