Ahead of July Fourth health officials warn not to repeat Memorial Day amid COVID-19 spike

Face masks only tool we have short of a cure or vaccine, Dr. Raul Pino says

A man wears a face mask as he shops for fireworks at Wild Willy's Fireworks tent in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 29, 2020, ahead of the 4th of July holiday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) (Nati Harnik, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Despite most organized fireworks shows being called off due to the coronavirus pandemic Florida doctors are warning people to avoid large gatherings this weekend for the Fourth of July holiday.

This warning comes as Florida reported more new infections than any other state in the country on Wednesday. While many people who become infected display minimal or no symptoms, the state reported hundreds of new hospitalizations this week for more serious cases of the illness. More than 320 people in Orange County are hospitalized with COVID-19, currently.

Health officer for Orange County Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health, said currently wearing a face mask and social distancing are the only tools we have against the virus short of a cure or a vaccine, which is still months away.

COVID-19 has a up to a two-week incubation period meaning new positive cases can take up to 14-days for symptoms. Florida began seeing a large increase in cases about 14 days after the Memorial Day holiday, during which large gatherings were reported all over the country as well as in Central Florida.

“The Fourth of July weekend is coming, and I just hope that we have learned from Memorial Day,” Pino said.

Orange County is about two weeks into a mandate requiring residents to wear a face mask while in public. Even with 560 new cases reported from Tuesday, Pino said the people have been wearing their masks and the effort is starting to pay off even if just by a fraction.

“Now we have seen 72 hours of lower rates and coincidentally it marks the seventh, eighth and nine days of the ordinance for face mask wearing in the county,” Pino said. “I would like to thank all our population for taking in our suggestions and the ordinance, of wearing face masks.”

Earlier in the day, Black communities leaders gathered on the steps of Orlando city hall to announce a new campaign to encourage African American and Hispanic communities to wear face masks.

Widespread testing continues across the state and according to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, the state-run COVID-19 testing site at the Orange County Convention Center is the busiest in all of Florida. More than 50,000 people have been tested at the regional testing location.

New mobile testing sites will open in Orlando following the Fourth of July holiday next week, including at Camping World Stadium. Testing is free and open to everyone but appointments are required. A testing site at Barnett Park will also open next week. Information about making an appointment is available at OCFL.org/coronavirus.

Demings also stressed caution ahead of the holiday weekend. He asked everyone wash their hands or use hand sanitizer, wear a mask and watch their distance from others.

Those steps are “going to become really important as we approach the end of Independence Day weekend ... for us to adhere to those guidelines,” the mayor said. “We know that this works.”