ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – With Orange County now under a stay-at-home order for a month, many locals are itching to get back to work and wondering when the economy that’s been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic will reopen.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he doesn’t have a timeline or template for what that process will look like, but officials are one step closer to figuring it out.
On Friday, he unveiled the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force, the nearly 50 members of which come from theme parks, banks, hospitals, hotels, nonprofits, the small business sector and other crucial industries in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties.
George Aguel, president of Visit Orlando and Tim Giuliani, the president of the Orlando Economic Partnership, will serve as co-chairs for the task force, which will meet virtually for the first time on Wednesday.
When that happens, Demings said members will devise some type of phased approach to allowing businesses to open when it’s safe to do so. Demings didn’t say when that plan would be announced.
“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get Orange County and Orlando, the metro Orlando area on the way to economic recovery while breaking the back of this virus,” Demings said.
Ultimately, the mayor said he wants the task force to come up with science-backed decisions that will keep residents safe while potentially allowing some businesses to operate when the time is right.
“We’re here to work together for the good of all of us,” he said.
Roderick Zak, senior pastor at Rejoice in the Lord Ministries, is one member of the task force.
Zak hopes his voice will make a difference.
“That’s important to me,” he said. “That we don’t politicize, nor do we, let me coin a phrase, economize it. In order words, it shouldn’t just be about the dollar. It has to be about saving lives. It has to be about health.” “Hopefully everyone is on the same page as far as understanding that there shouldn’t be a rush. There has to be a prudent process."
Another member of the task force is J. Henry, a barber in Parramore who said his shop has been closed for more than three weeks. As is the case with many businesses, he is trying to bounce back.
“You can get back money, I believe that," Henry said. “But you can’t get back a healthy life so being safe, following the guidelines is very very important .”
Demings said last week while he doesn’t want to speak too soon, early June is when things may begin to reopen.
The announcement came less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump released his three-phase plan for opening businesses back up.
In order to begin the process, a region must first experience 14 continuous days of declining instances of COVID-19. Then phase one, which includes reopening gyms and restaurants while still maintaining social distance, can begin. Those who are most at risk of contracting the deadly respiratory illness would need to remain at home. Schools would also remain closed and visits to hospitals and assisted living facilities would remain suspended.
If the area doesn’t see another increase in cases, it can move on to phase two. That involves easing social restriction guidelines to no groups larger than 50 instead of the current 10. Employees should still telecommute, if possible, but schools, camps and bars could reopen.
“Safety always come first with life and things when it comes down to business, especially when you’re dealing with people," said Henry.
Phase three is what most would likely call the new normal. Employees could return to the office, at-risk individuals could venture out more and large venues could operate with some minor stipulations.
The president has asked governors and other local leaders to take charge of implementing that approach rather than issuing a nationwide response that wouldn’t take into consideration the varying degree of COVID-19 instances across the country.
Demings said Friday that he’s proud of residents for taking self-isolation measures seriously and he needs them to continue to do so as leaders work to find the “sweet spot” for resuming operations without putting anyone at risk.
“I am confident we will be able to get Orange County and Orlando on the way to economic recovery while we save both lives and livelihoods,” he said.
“All of the industry -- the restaurant industry -- we are hurting, and we want to open back up,” said Florencio Rodriguez, owner of Don Julio Mexican Kitchen.
Rodriguez was one of the 50 business leaders chosen for the mayor’s economic task force.
Right now, his locations are reduced to just take-out orders.
He said he wants to go back to business-as-usual, but he wants to instill trust in customers, as well.
“In the kitchen, we want to wear on all of our staff -- like we’re doing now -- and we want to (show) the safety, so the customers and everybody in the public will have the trust," he said.
Below is the full list of Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force members:
- Orlando Economic Partnership president Tim Giuliani
- Visit Orlando president George Aguel
- Advent Health senior vice president of ambulatory services Dr. Scott Brady
- Alfond Inn general manager Jesse Martinez
- Black Business Investment Fund (BBIF) president and CEO Inez Long
- CareerSource Central Florida president and CEO Pamela Nabors
- Central Florida Auto Dealers Association CEO Evelyn Cardenas
- Church Street Entertainment managing partner Doug Taylor
- Darden Restaurants EVP and COO Dave George
- Disney senior vice president of resort & transportation operations Thomas Mazloum
- Don Julio’s Mexican Kitchen owner Florencio “Larry” Rodriguez
- Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts president and CEO Kathy Ramsberger
- Florida Department of Health in Orange County director Dr. Raul Pino
- Highwood Properties vice president Steve Garrity
- J Henry’s Barber Shop owner John Henry
- Johnny Rivers Grill & Market owner Johnny Rivers
- Lake County Agency for Economic Prosperity executive director Brandon Matulka
- M.C. Spa & Nail Spa founder and CEO Mary Chau
- Mosaic Hair Studio owner Mike Van del Abbeel
- National Entrepreneur Center executive director Jerry Ross
- Nelson, Mullins/Broad and Cassel shareholder Wayne Rich
- Orange County Public Schools superintendent Barbara Jenkins, Ed.D
- Orlando City Soccer CEO Alex Leitao
- Orlando Health medical chief quality officer Dr. George Ralls
- Orlando International Airport CEO Phil Brown
- Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins
- Orlando Shakespeare Theater president Douglas Love-Ramos
- Orlando Venues chief venues officer Allen Johnson
- Osceola County, president and CEO of the Kissimmee Chamber John Newstreet,
- Prospera president and CEO Augusto Sanabria
- Rejoice in the Lord Ministries & President, African American Council of Christian Clergy, Pastor Roderick Zak, CEO
- Rosen Shingle Creek general manager Dan Giordano
- SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment vice president of operations Brad Gilmour
- Seminole County Government deputy county manager and chief administrator for community relations and economic development Tricia Johnson
- The Mall at Millenia general manager Steve Jamison
- Truist Central Florida regional president Sandy Hostetter
- UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management dean Youcheng Wang, Ph.D.
- Unicorp National Development president Chuck Whittall
- Universal Orlando executive vice president of resort operations Rich Costales
- Vineyard Wine Bar & Healthy Bistro owner Deborah Linden
- VMD Ventures CEO Harold Mills
- Walmart, Inc. director of public affairs and government relations Monesia Brown
- WaWa senior director of Florida operations and new market development Todd Souders
- YMCA of Central Florida president and CEO Dan Wilcox