ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says he won’t force residents to wear face masks to stop the spread of coronavirus in the community because an order of that type would be too difficult to enforce.
According to Demings, the county has only received 36,000 of the 230,000 N95 masks it has ordered. Because access to masks and other personal protective equipment is limited, Demings doesn’t think requiring residents to wear them is the best path to take.
“I believe it would have created a bit of a challenge for law enforcement to enforce that order, especially given the challenge of finding masks,” Demings said.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina agreed, saying that in general, people have been more than willing to take protective measures so there’s no need to force them to do so.
Both local leaders said that while it’s not mandated, wearing a mask is still a good idea.
“We are strongly urging you to wear your masks, it’s going to save lives,” Mina said.
Osceola County has required its residents to wear while out in public but while the mandate was initially punishable by a fine or jail time, elected officials have since announced that they won’t be enforcing the new measure.
On a positive note, Demings said Monday that data he’s reviewed suggests that Orange County’s curve could be flattening, although more information is needed to determine whether the region has already peaked.
“I think that there is a deacceleration in Orange County but that doesn’t mean it’s permanent, it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet,” Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County said.
All three men agreed that members of the community need to stick with social distancing measures so the area doesn’t risk potentially peaking for a second time or seeing another wave of COVID-19 patients months from now.
“We do not want to go through this again,” Demings said.
In part to keep up with those measures, Pino announced that the agency is working on five new mobile testing sites that will be located at Camping World Stadium, Blanchard Park, West Orange Park, Barnett Park and the South Econ Community Park.
“The sites were geographically selected taking into consideration of the heat maps. The areas with the highest health disparities but also geography so everyone can have access to that,” Pino said.
The idea is that residents in the area could potentially walk to the site if they do not have transportation.
Testing at those locations will be free and open to anyone with an appointment.
Demings said he has three main goals this week: stop the spread of coronavirus, expand testing capabilities and begin planning the process of reopening businesses when it is safe to do so.
He said after the pandemic, our lives will likely be changed in a way comparable to how they were after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“After this pandemic, we’re going to see the same thing happen. There will be a change in the sanitary protocols and I believe some of the regulatory requirements for businesses that serve food, other products or handle drugs and other things. I believe you’re going to see new mandates that are going to be codified in law... that will give further guidance to businesses as they reopen,” Demings said.
He said it’s possible that certain workers will be required to wear masks and gloves, select businesses such as restaurants will need to operate at a reduced capacity and there could be health screenings for certain industries.
As of Monday morning, there are 1,017 COVID-19 patients in Orange County and 20,601 statewide.