‘We’re not there yet:’ Orange County mayor doesn’t want to go back to lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise

Mask mandate could be coming

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise both locally and across the state, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the region is not at the point where business openings need to be rolled back but a lockdown could be put back in place if the situation doesn’t improve.

Demings addressed the question during a news conference Monday, after the director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County Dr. Raul Pino provided an update on the most recent figures. According to him, the county saw 730 new COVID-19 cases last week alone, up 202% from the week before.

“The numbers are rising again,” Pino said.

Demings added that leaders expected to see an increase in cases as the economy started to reopen but they didn’t expect the increase to be so exponential. The concern now is that local numbers could exceed what was seen during the peak around April 10.

So far this week, which has only just begun, 246 new cases have been reported, leading Pino to believe that the numbers for this week could be even worse than what Orange County saw the week prior.

The cumulative positivity rate is now at 3.4%, up from 3% on Thursday.

[TIMELINE: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]

The FDOH reports a total of 3,180 cases in Orange County, 370 hospitalizations and 47 deaths, although the most recent fatality hasn’t been added to the state’s dashboard yet.

Pino said as of Sunday, there were six people on ventilators and 70 patients hospitalized outside of the intensive care unit.

He reiterated that local patients are getting younger, which is why hospitalizations have only seen a slight increase compared to the much larger overall case load.

Orange County's coronavirus heat map for June 1 through June 14.
Orange County's coronavirus heat map for June 1 through June 14. (Orange County)

After those numbers were announced, Demings said that if the hospital capacity starts to dwindle or if the positivity rate reaches the double digits, then he will consider rolling back some of the business openings in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly respiratory illness.

“So the short answer to are we looking today to go back to some mandates for sheltering in place, is we’re not there yet,” Demings said. “This is why we’re coming to our residents today and saying that we need all of their help to avoid that becoming a greater probability.”

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Although he didn’t mention specific business names, he noted that there have been cases traced back to bars and similar establishments where masks are less likely to be worn. The most recent heat maps from Orange and Seminole counties show a concentration of cases in downtown Orlando and near the University of Central Florida.

Because of that, he’s spoken with health care leaders about requiring masks at certain establishments where transmission could occur more easily.

Demings said a mask mandate could be coming soon but it wouldn’t be a blanket requirement for all residents. Either way, he’s hoping residents will see the rising case numbers and want to voluntarily comply.

“I’m very optimistic. I believe in the people who live here. I believe they will follow our leadership and direction that we’re asking of them and I believe that having gone through the experience of sheltering in place, no one wants to go back to that,” Demings said.

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