‘We’re managing the virus:’ Orange County mayor sees glimmer of hope in latest COVID-19 data

Officials believe mask mandate is working

A health care worker works at a COVID-19 testing site sponsored by Community Heath of South Florida at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Clinica Campesina Health Center, during the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, July 6, 2020, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
A health care worker works at a COVID-19 testing site sponsored by Community Heath of South Florida at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Clinica Campesina Health Center, during the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, July 6, 2020, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Although the number of COVID-19 cases both statewide and in the region has soared in recent weeks, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Monday he is starting to feel as if the area could be seeing some signs of improvement.

As of Monday, there have been 14,407 COVID-19 patients in Orange County since the virus was first detected in Florida on March 1. Of those cases, 375 were reported between Sunday and Monday. The local cumulative positivity rate is 9.2% and the recovery rate locally sits at 61%, according to Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

While those numbers may be among the highest in the state, Pino said researchers are starting to see evidence of what they hope will be a decline.

He said last week, the incident rate per 100,000 was 271 compared to 343 per 100,000 the week before.

“So there was a reduction in our rate, right there. And also part of the hopeful news that the mayor was talking about in the data, last week we saw a reduction, a negative growth of 21% compared to the prior week and that coincides with the second week that we have the mask on ordinance in Orange County and that should not be a coincidence,” Pino said.

Orange County’s mask mandate began on June 20.

“So I think, in the midst of the misery that we talked about there’s some bright points there and we’re managing the virus is essentially what we’re saying to you,” Demings said.

In terms of the more severe cases, 357 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in Orange County, according to Pino. He said there are 511 hospital beds, 499 ventilators, 58 ICU beds for adults, 46 ICU beds for children and 13 long-term care facility beds available in the county.

Also new with the numbers, Pino said those who test positive for coronavirus antigens are being counted as a new case as of July 1. Thus far, he said there have been 698 positive antigen tests in Florida.

There are plans to eventually expand the availability of antibody testing in Orange County but right now the focus is on controlling small outbreaks, according to Pino.

While leaders expressed concern last week that Fourth of July could be troublesome and lead to another increase in cases like the state saw after the busy Memorial Day weekend, Demings said he was happy to see people wearing masks and social distancing.

“I drove around the county quite a bit. I saw a much better response on the Independence Day weekend than I did during the Memorial Day weekend in terms of people who were wearing masks and following the CDC guidelines,” Demings said. “That was the type of desired response we wanted to see from our community and I believe that if that continues, then we somewhat control our destiny going forward in terms of stopping the spread of the virus.”

Walt Disney World is set to begin reopening its parks Saturday and both the MLS and the NBA are set to play games in Orlando soon.

Demings said he feels confident that leaders will resume this type of activity safely and take appropriate precautions to prevent outbreaks.

“At this point, I’m fairly comfortable with the decision that Disney has made to reopen because of the extent that they have gone through to ensure a safe environment. Again, we saw something positive today in terms of the, the lowering of the positivity rate within the last week and some other things so we have to, we have to take the good news where there’s bad news as well and we have to try to get our economy stimulated but we don’t want to do that at the expense of risking people’s safety,” Demings said.

As far as the sports teams go, Pino said it’s likely that they’ll have players test positive at some point but the key will be examining transmission.

“The question is not if they are going to have positive people, they are going to have positive people. We are in a pandemic environment,” Pino said. “The question is how many and what type of transmission is going to happen there. If it’s just a small group of people among the closest or there is transmission between teams, and that will indicate, you know, some kind of different action is needed.”

He added that players are regularly being tested and league leaders will take some “harder considerations” about tournaments if the need arises.

Earlier on Monday, the mayor of Miami-Dade county ordered that gyms shut down once again and restaurants move to take-out only due to the recent spike in cases. Demings said as of now, he has no plans to do the same.

“I believe that we would consider that in consultation with our health experts, if they were able to identify a disproportionate number of restaurants and gyms as outbreak centers or clusters that started an outbreak, so we aren’t seeing that at this point,” he said.

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Correction:An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that positive antibody tests are counting in the state's overall caseload when it should have read antigen tests.

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