‘When we have a vaccine:’ Orange County doctor says it’s too soon to lift mask mandate

Even once vaccine is found, other factors would need to be considered, doctor says

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said the area is just now starting to see the effects of the countywide mask mandate issued six weeks ago in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, which is why he says it’s not time to lift the order just yet.

In fact, he said if it were up to him, Orange County residents would be wearing masks until there was a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

According to the state, Orange County’s overall positivity rate, which is the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 compared to the number of tests administered since the start of the pandemic, stood at 11.6%. The state’s daily positivity rate for its most recent set of data was 6.8%, a drop from Friday’s rate of 8.1%, according to Pino.

[UPDATE: See Florida’s curve when it comes to coronavirus cases]

Pino said the decrease could be due, in part, to a lack of testing over the weekend as some sites were closed because of Tropical Storm Isaias but still praised the downward trend in numbers, saying there are other indicators that the county’s COVID-19 curve is flattening.

During a news conference Monday, News 6 reporter Nicky Zizaza asked how low the county’s positivity rate would need to be for leaders to consider lifting the countywide mask mandate, which went into effect on June 20.

“So, if the mayor were to ask me -- and he has not -- when to lift the executive order, I will say after we have a vaccine,” Pino said.

He said while that would be his recommendation, other factors would still need to be considered for the mandate to be lifted.

“My recommendation is not yet, but even when we have the vaccine so that people are clear, even if we get a vaccine (by) December, January, it’s going to take us a few months to vaccinate. First, we have to be hopeful that people are going to get vaccinated ... Are people going to be receptive to the vaccine? That’s the first question,” Pino said.

Pino said even if people were receptive to a vaccine -- and it’s still unclear how soon we could have one -- it would take time for enough people to be vaccinated for there to really be immunity to the virus among the community.

“And the second is I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of priority would happen, probably for you know, assisted living facility health care workers, first responders, people experiencing homelessness, maybe students and the schools and that type of environment first,” Pino said. “And it will take us four or five months to get people vaccinated to a level that you can say, ‘Okay, now we are getting immunity to a level that we can start relaxing those protective measures that we have in place.‘”

Even if there is a vaccine that’s declared safe and effective by the end of the year, there won’t be enough to go around right off the bat, according to the Associated Press. U.S. health authorities hope by late next month to have some draft guidance on how to ration initial doses, but it’s a vexing decision, the AP reports.

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Pino said it took six weeks to see solid results from the mask mandate reflected in the data and that although he is happy about the county’s decreasing positivity rate, he’d like to see it drop even more.

“The county is in a very good position to continue to decrease these, even below 5%, which is what I’m striving for,” Pino said.

As the world continues to battle COVID-19, there are thousands of vaccine trials taking place right now all over the U.S, including at research clinics in Central Florida.

Orange County has reported 29,927 cases of COVID-19 and 239 deaths since the virus was first detected in Florida in early March. Since then, the state has seen a total of 491,884 coronavirus cases and 7,279 virus-related deaths.

Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said people wearing masks helped numbers go down.

“I have confidence in people in Florida when they decide to do the right thing, they do it,” Mokdad said.

Mokdad said Florida relaxed on mandates prematurely.

“When people started going out and about they didn’t see COVID-19 early on,” Mokdad said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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