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Orange County task force: Reopen businesses with masks, temperature checks

Mayor didn’t provide timeline of when county would re-open

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – How far apart can customers stay from each other?

During the first conference call of Orange County's Economic Recovery Task Force meeting, the mayor's Chief of Staff Roseann Harrington proposed businesses re-open in three stages, depending on their "ability to manage social distancing at all times."

The first stage would allow small businesses with “low human interaction,” like dry cleaners, salons and some restaurants, to reopen first.

After two weeks, officials would analyze health data to see if Coronavirus is making a resurgence.

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If not, businesses with "medium human interaction" - venues - would be allowed to reopen, according to Harrington.

And after that, "high human interaction" businesses, like theme parks and sporting events, could re-open.

Harrington said any reopening must be in line with the President's and Governor's guidelines.

Doctor Scott Brady of Advent Health assured the mayor that hospitals are in "good shape."

"We have seen a flattening over the past 21 days," Brady said.

Around 100 patients with COVID-19 remain in Advent Health hospitals, according to Brady.

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He said if a Coronavirus vaccine is not developed, businesses and hospitals must continue health safety protocols as they reopen.

"Masks must be worn by everyone when everyone outside the home, temperature testing, social distancing measures, mass testing, aggressive patient tracking and exposure tracing," Brady said.

Orlando Health Medical Chief Quality Officer, Dr. George Ralls, said his numbers show a "reassuring trend."

Florida Department of Health Orange County Director Dr. Raul Pino said the number of positive Coronavirus cases, by percentage, continues to fall, even as testing increases.

Pino said that number will be critical to watch as the county reopens.

"I think this is critical information and we will use as a gauge... as how reintroduction of county activity will affect the pandemic," Pino said.

But after an hour of medical data and information, commercial real estate developer Chuck Whittall, who brought the Starflyer and Orlando Eye to International Drive, had had enough.

“Because I understand all the medical part, but there were five times we spoke about medical people, not one business person spoke until now,” Whittall said. “But I can tell you from the daycares to the hair salons to the restaurants, we’ve got some of the biggest restaurants that rent from us, they are all weeks, not months, weeks from completely going broke.”

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Whittall wanted a timeline.

“Because it sounds like from this it could be weeks and weeks and weeks,” Whittall said. “And I can tell you from our portfolio, tenants are on the verge of going broke. All of them. Can’t pay power bills, phone bills, water bills, forget rent. They want to know when they can open. If I’m a small restaurant, what is the date I can open with this social distancing? If I’m a bar, hair salons, when can they open if they can respect 6 feet? When is that time frame?”

Mayor Demings did not offer a date.

“The purpose of this meeting is to map out... but it requires an understanding of health-related consequences,” Demings said. “Reopening should occur at a pace that continues to protect your employees, business owners, and consumers from the virus itself. The work of this task force is to make the types of informed decisions by which to make recommendations about when businesses can reopen.”

Demings said Orange County cannot open until the state and the federal government allows it to.

"Depending on the type of businesses, directives that come from the federal government and state, we will have to work within those frameworks to get it done," Demings said. "In terms of the timeline every one wants to know... that is the roles that each one of you has the opportunity to play."

"I think the worst thing that can happen is we reopen without protocols," Demings said. "And find ourselves in a resurgence."

The task force meets again next Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

You can email your question to the task force by 5 p.m. the day before the meeting to economicrecovery@ocfl.net.


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