Orange County mayor hopes to give business owners clear reopening guidelines before Monday

Economic Recovery Task Force finalizing recommendations

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The four working groups within the Orange County Economic Recovery Task force are finalizing their recommendations to give to the mayor on what reopening would look like in Orange County.

The mayor hopes to announce what he says will be clear guidelines for retailers and restaurateurs before Monday, when the governor is allowing certain businesses that were closed to stop the spread of COVID-19 to resume operations. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said there were parts of the governor’s executive order that were ambiguous.

“I see it as, for the most part, fairly sensible,” Demings said about the governor’s phase one reopening plan. “But it does have a bit of ambiguity and would require clarification during the coming days.”

Demings hopes the clarification comes from the working groups within the task force.

Guidelines for Reopening Business working group

The Guidelines for Business Reopening Working Group is working on finalizing a list of recommendations businesses will be strongly encouraged to follow.

As of Thursday morning and after seeking guidance from hospital and health care leaders, co-chair Chuck Whittall with Unicorp National Development came up with seven recommendations:

  1. Social distancing
  2. Stay home if you are sick
  3. Requiring employees to wear masks
  4. Promote aggressive hand washing
  5. Protect high-risk population
  6. Conduct staff temperature checks
  7. Health screenings for customers

The groups spent a lot of the time in the one-hour task force meeting also expressing their concerns about salons and gyms being left out of the governor’s order. They asked to see if task force could put pressure on the governor to allow them to reopen.

"If we are complying with and meeting all the CDC requirements...I don't know why is it we have to continue to wait to open," said J. Henry, owner of J. Henry's Barber Shop.

Business Readiness working group

The Business Readiness working group is coming up with its recommendations to make sure businesses, including small and medium-sized, will have enough supplies to keep in line with the governor’s and mayor’s orders.

Monesia Brown with Walmart is part of the task force and she said even larger companies are seeing issues with supply chains.

"It's not unique to Walmart or Florida and the supply chain is really impacted by multiple issues," Brown said. "Some of these products are going to places that might be in greater need. If you talk about disinfectants, some stores and regions haven't seen that product but it may be going to New York."

The group has requested to see if the county had any funds to help supply businesses. According to Demings, Orange County did receive $243 million in federal funding through the CARES Act. The county attorneys are looking to see if any of that money can go to purchasing supplies for businesses trying to reopen.

“We don’t know the answer to that at this point,” Demings said Thursday. “We are trying to understand that, and if it was, do we have the ability to purchase it on behalf of businesses?”

Business Compliance & Consumer Confidence working group

Some key takeaways from the Business Compliance and Consumer Confidence Working group is that the group wants to focus on positive messaging and consumers being able to highlight businesses that are complying.

There’s a website created for people to submit complaints if they see businesses not complying, but a big question members of the group had, specifically representatives from Orange County Sheriff’s Office, is how those complaints will be handled both at the state and county levels.

“Orlando is very different than any other city in Florida and in the country,” said John De Armas, the vice chair of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. “More tourists coming in than anyone else. There is a level of responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously.”

Demings highlighted a little bit of what he thinks enforcement would be like as reopening begins.

“It could look like an agent of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations going out. It could look like an inspector from the Department of Health. If there is a complaint filed, local law enforcement can go in and see if there is compliance with the law itself,” Demings said.

Bringing Back Tourism working group

The Bringing Back Tourism working group broke down detailed information on when food-based businesses, including hotels, should reopen. There was some confusion on whether the 25% capacity in restaurants included employees as well.

According to Keri Burns with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the FAQs of the governor’s reopening order clarified that question. She explained it in an earlier working group.

“He clarified that the capacity for 25% would not include the employees at the restaurants,” Burns said early Thursday. “They understand it’s going to be difficult. If employees can maintain 6 feet apart and the facial covering would be important, but it does not include capacity.”

The goal of this group is also to build customer confidence and traveler confidence. According to members of the group, travelers want to hear from recognized authorities that it is safe to take part in tourism again.

According to experts on the group, they expect to see theme parks finding their own experts to rally tourists back to the attractions. The Guideline for Reopening Business group has also allowed theme park representatives to come up with their own guidelines for reopening.

All four working groups are expected to bring their final recommendations to a full Orange County Economic Task Force Meeting Friday at 2 p.m. The mayor then hopes to have an announcement for Orange County business owners before Monday.

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