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Coronavirus damages to Orange County tourism tax will likely exceed post 9/11, officials warn

Comptroller Phil Diamond says March numbers will be bleak

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond painted a bleak picture Monday of the affect the coronavirus pandemic will have on the county’s tourism tax dollars following the closure of theme parks, saying the only thing he can compare it to is the fallout after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

February was a good month for the county’s tourism tax collections which are collected mostly from rentals, hotels and motels. Diamond said TDT was up 6.8% for February and 8% for the fiscal year.

However, the comptroller warned, February’s tax numbers do not reflect the month of March when the Orange County Convention Center saw cancellation after cancellation and Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando -- along with every other major attraction -- closed due to the coronavirus.

Thousands of workers in Central Florida have been furloughed or let go due to coronavirus-related closures.

Asked how bad it will get Monday during a news conference, Diamond said it was hard to say.

[Timeline: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]

“Because the closest thing I can think of that this would compare would be 9/11,” Diamond said, but this time, “You had the world’s most popular theme parks closing down and you have 75 million people per year coming to the theme parks and conventions.”

After 9/11, Diamond said the county saw a 32% decrease in tourism tax dollars in the first month and over 11 months things continue to decline.

“People aren’t going to come here until they feel safe," Diamond said. “People aren’t going to feel safe until we do all the things we need to do.”

By Monday, Orange County was approaching 800 cases of COVID-19, including eight deaths and more than 80 hospitalizations. This time last week there were half as many cases.

“In a week we doubled the number of positive cases and in a week doubled the number of deaths,” Orange County Health services director Dr. Yolanda Martinez said Monday.

Florida is now projected to see the worst of the outbreak by the third week of April, with more than 200 deaths a day but those models are ever changing with the latest information and efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Despite the sour forecast ahead Diamond said, "Things will get better, they always have.”

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