ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Speaking an hour before Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that most of Florida would be able to enter phase one of reopening beginning next week, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said it may take a little more time for businesses in Orange County and he would unveil a plan for that process on Friday.
"I didn't say end of May, I didn't say June," Demings said at a news conference late Wednesday. "We don't want it to open too quickly without a plan in place."
The mayor hopes to get that plan through the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. The group created last week has since broken up into four working subgroups: The Guidelines for Reopening Business, Business Readiness Group, Compliance and Consumer Confidence Group and Bringing Back Tourism Group.
"In order for people to have ample time to prepare to get their workers back to work and get all the equipment they need, it takes some planning," Demings said.
The Guidelines for Reopening Businesses Group is expected to put out a finalized list of guidelines businesses would have to follow, both recommendations and mandates. The group, which included major theme parks and business leaders, met Wednesday morning, turning to health care officials with both Orlando Health and AdventHealth for guidance on what those guidelines could look like.
AdventHealth’s Dr. Scott Brady brought a list of six guidelines he recommends for all businesses.
Those guidelines include:
- Universal masking of all employees and guests
- Continue keeping people six feet apart
- Quickly sending symptomatic people for testing and treatment
- Make sure employees practice aggressive hand hygiene
- Sanitize work surfaces after contact with employees and guests
- Temperature checks for all employees and guests
Many of the business owners within the task force expressed concerns with requiring businesses to give temperature checks to all customers too.
"I don't think it's practical to do this to customers," said Chuck Whitall, President of Unicorp National Development and co-chair of the working group.
However, Brady stood by his recommendations with a stern warning for the group.
“Just breathing with a fever spreads this virus,” Brady said. “There is more a chance that this virus spreads and we have to shut everything down, there is more of a chance than less of a chance. I just want to caution you to be very, very careful.”
Dr. Raul Pino with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County weighed in on the issue late Wednesday, saying he doesn't think requiring temperature checks for all customers of all businesses is practical.
“If I want to pass a temperature check all I have to do is take a pill 40 minutes before and I won’t have a temperature anymore,” Pino said. “There are other steps that are easier to implement, easier to enforce and more universal.”
Pino is expected to join the discussion with the Guidelines for Reopening Business group as they continue to meet Thursday at 9 a.m. The guidelines group hopes to have their list ready for the mayor to make an announcement on a date of reopening in Orange County by Friday.
Demings Wednesday was not ready to give an exact date for reopening in Orange County yet but, as he’s mentioned before, noted that any plan would need to include a phased approach. He said having the economy back in its pre-coronavirus swing by May 11 was not “very realistic.”
“How we reopen Orange County must be done with extreme care,” Demings said. "We do not want to open too quickly without a solid plan in place.”
While that plan hadn’t been unveiled while Demings was speaking Wednesday, he did say that the region would likely keep in line with guidelines set out by the state.
Phase one of the governor’s approach includes allowing reduced dining in at restaurants, opening retail stores with 25% capacity and resuming elective surgeries. Gyms, salons and movie theaters will remain shuttered.
Pino said testing remains a main priority as a potential reopening nears. Recent testing results, he said, have been promising.
“We are actually in a very good position because the more we test, the less (cases) we find,” Pino said.
A new initiative could involve creating small, mobile testing units capable of doing up to 50 tests at a time that can be moved to address small outbreaks.
Regardless of what local reopening plan is announced, leaders cautioned that residents must keep their guard up and continue to follow recommendations put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Our work isn’t over and while these plans will provide a path to gradually and safely restart our economy, they must not lure us into thinking that we’re going to go back into business as normal because the virus is still going to be here and life is not normal,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “The hard truth is that we are building a new normal and it will be a different way of life for everyone and a different way of doing things to keep us all safe.”