ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Though the governor announced Wednesday that many businesses throughout Florida can begin to reopen as early as next week, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said it could be a while longer before businesses begin reopening in his county because they will need more time to prepare for the new guidelines.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that most of Florida -- excluding Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties -- can begin what he called “phase one” of the reopening process amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Demings discussed what the governor’s new order means for Orange County with reporters a day after the announcement, saying the plan creates more questions for some.
“While in many instances it has a happy balance between the health and safety needs of Floridians vs. the economic well-being of Floridians I see as something that for the most part is fairly sensible but it does have some ambiguities and will require clarification during the coming days," Demings said.
The governor said Florida would reopen in three phases, in line with the guidelines released by the White House under President Trump’s reopening America plan.
DeSantis said phase one wouldn’t look too different from the way Floridians have been living for the last month under his statewide stay-at-home order, which expires Thursday. Under the new order, restaurants and retail shops can reopen with restrictions and people can again have elective surgeries and procedures.
Despite the governor’s plans to move forward with reopening Monday, some Central Florida leaders, including Demings, are still considering taking a slower approach.
Demings said it could be a while longer before businesses begin to reopen in Orange County, the Central Florida county that has seen the most cases of COVID-19. At last check, there were more than 1,370 confirmed cases in Orange County.
A curfew remains for all of Orange County from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. The mayor said he has no plans to lift that anytime soon.
Demings didn’t give an exact date for when businesses would reopen but said he doesn’t want to rush it and risk seeing a spike in coronavirus cases.
The mayor said under the governor’s order restaurants and retail shops can reopen in the county if they are able to comply with the guidelines, including 6-feet between customers and maintaining a 25% occupancy.
“In the absence of recommendations from our task force that they can get to me in a timely manner, those entities will be able to reopen on Monday as long as they do so in compliance with the governor’s order,” Demings said.
Demings said he could see many businesses not being ready to reopen by Monday with proper precautions in place. There is a nationwide shortage on personal protective equipment as well as hand santizer, two requirements of the governor’s mandate.
“If you are going to put a mandate in place you have to reasonably allow the citizens to meet that needs, to get the PPE, to get the hand sanitizers and things that need to be put in place,” Demings said. “This is one of those areas, that if you ask me puts a little bit of ambiguity, and if I was a business owner puts a little bit of consternation there if I have not already been able to acquire that.”
The Florida Department of business has regulatory authority over businesses and the Florida Department of Health can enforce health-related mandates. Local law enforcement will continue to enforce the mandates on social gathering of 10 or more which can result in a misdemeanor fine.
The Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force, assembled by the mayor, is tasked with developing a plan to reopen the county’s economy, is working on a set of guidelines members feel are appropriate for the county’s tourist-driven economy.
“Our work groups are going to continue their review and make recommendations to me whether or not they are able to get that done by close of business tomorrow remains to be seen,” Demings said, adding the task force is working toward a goal of providing recommendations to the mayor by the end of the week.
The group, which was created earlier this month, has been divided into four working subgroups: The Guidelines for Reopening Business, Business Readiness Group, Compliance and Consumer Confidence Group and Bringing Back Tourism Group.
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.
The group is expected to meet again Thursday and Friday to continue developing a plan to safely reopen the county.
In the meantime, you can read more about the governor’s plan to reopen Florida here.
There is no timeline for when the governor’s phase one ends and phase two rolls out but will depend on how things go including the number of new coronavirus cases, according to the governor.
“It’s a bit of uncertainty about how long it remains in place until the governor decides otherwise,” Demings said.