ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Each time Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings provides an update on the regional coronavirus situation, he’s inevitably asked when businesses shuttered by the statewide stay-at-home order will be allowed to open.
Each time, Demings has said he’s unable to provide an exact date, adding that the county will follow directives from the governor’s office.
On Monday, he said he doesn’t currently have a timeline for reopening restaurants, salons and other businesses, but he’s hoping to know more on when that all could happen by Friday -- the day after the executive order is scheduled to expire unless Gov. Ron DeSantis issues an extension.
“Folks should be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” DeSantis said during a news conference on Monday in Hillsborough County. “It’s not going to be something where a switch is going to be flipped. This is going to be slow and steady wins the race.”
Demings added that starting Tuesday, Orange County’s Economic Recovery Task Force will meet daily to devise guidelines for business owners to keep employees and customers safe when they’re allowed to resume operations.
While Demings couldn’t provide a concrete reopening date so many have been asking for, he did provide a word of caution for anyone trying to get back to work before the time comes.
“Going forward, we do anticipate that there will be a phased reopening and what I would suggest is for them to wait until they hear that direction. Our goal this week is to by the end of Friday have a more specific direction about when the various types of businesses might be able to reopen and so they really should wait on that,” Demings said. “I understand that many businesses just want to reopen, get back at it but they do so at some risk there because we do intend to enforce whatever orders will be in place.”
Florida Department of Health in Orange County officer Dr. Raul Pino said that before residents can start making appointments and dining out again, plans need to be in place to protect the elderly and other vulnerable citizens, ensure that COVID-19 cases are continuing to decline and prevent any further outbreaks.
A good sign he noted is that the local positive rate has remained in the single digits for weeks and about 70% of the 1,339 COVID-19 patients identified in the county thus far have recovered.
It is possible, however, that numbers could go up next week because more active testing is being done in the community, according to Pino.
Another crucial element of reopening will be ensuring that there’s a system in place to conduct contact tracing for anyone who tests positive for the deadly respiratory illness.
“The issue with COVID-19 is that it’s so infectious that the numbers grow so quickly that it overwhelms our ability to do the part of the work that is very time consuming and if the numbers are coming at you (too quickly) then you cannot keep up. That’s why it’s so critical to ensure that the numbers are at the lowest possible level before the economy starts opening or reopening so that we have the ability to assess any cases that may come up in the community or control any outbearks and that’s going to be critical not to have a second wave,” Pino said.
Demings plans to host another news conference Wednesday then again on Friday.