Social activities up, COVID-19 cases down: Orange County leaders pleased with recent virus data

Coronavirus cases plateau despite school, business reopenings, health officials say

In this Wednesday, June 3, 2020 photo, guests arrive at Universal Orlando Resort Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. The theme park has reopened for season pass holders and will open to the general public on Friday, June 5. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Health officials in Orange County are pleasantly surprised at the county’s recent coronavirus data, as numbers appear to be staying low despite recent reopenings.

In fact, as schools and businesses reopened over the past several weeks, health officials said they expected a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. Instead, recent data shows a plateau in infections for the first time, Dr. Raul Pino with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said during a coronavirus news briefing on Monday.

“We actually have the absolute same number of cases, on week 37 we have 725 and week 38, we have 725. And that’s called an epi plateau," Pino said. “The longer that we stay at this level, the more stable the pandemic is in our community.”

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Orange County schools reopened for face-to-face learning last month. Since then, some schools, like Olympia and West Orange high schools, have had to close due to a number of positive COVID-19 cases on campus but overall, Pino said the number of cases the county has seen since schools reopened has been lower than county leaders anticipated.

“We (are) actually surprised that the schools are doing better than we were expecting. Although, you know, people could argue that there is a high number of individuals in quarantine and so many individuals in isolation. I would like to remember that we have a ... student population of 200,000 -- over 200,000. So, that number, in the scales, is quite small,” Pino said.

According to Orange County Public School’s COVID-19 dashboard, 174 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at schools throughout the county as of Monday afternoon. Students and staff members who may be exposed to any positive cases are asked to quarantine out of an abundance of caution to prevent further spread of the virus.

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In addition to schools reopenings, sports and other extracurricular activities have resumed without too many hiccups, aside from a football game and volleyball game that were canceled last week due to the virus.

Businesses in Orange County, including Central Florida’s theme parks, have also reopened without reports of significant outbreaks. Major League Soccer has been able to resume with a limited number of fans and the NBA has even been able play at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

Orange County Mayor Demings said the fact that social activities have increased and the number of cases hasn’t spiked shows the community has learned to live with the virus.

“I think you can see within our community through every different sector -- public and private sector, in different institutions -- you can’t go in a public building and not see social distancing and all the other measures that have been put in place,” Demings said.

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Demings said he believes the county’s strike teams, which conduct random checks at businesses throughout Orange County to make sure they’re following proper COVID-19 safety measures, have also played a key role in limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus.

He said he believes Central Florida’s theme parks, which have been visited by the strike teams, “got it right.”

“They are doing what they can to make certain that those areas are as clean as they possibly could be and they have ensured that people are wearing masks, monitoring the social distancing, you know, watching the face ... and washing your hands, as Dr. Pino talks about,” Demings said.

He said although the county’s tourism industry has taken a hit during the pandemic, he believes Central Florida is still the No.1 destination and wants the community to know that the county is doing what it can to make sure that once the region begins welcoming larger numbers of guests again, it will be safe to do so.

“We are doing all the things that we need to do to make certain that, even from the convention business, that our convention center is safe. We have instituted various sanitary protocols at the convention center, we have invested in some infrastructure and capital items at our convention center so that when the convention business returns, we want to assure people that they can do so safely," Demings said.

Also amid the stabilizing COVID-19 numbers in Orange County, bars and breweries were able to reopen last week. Pino said it’s too soon to tell if their reopenings have had an impact on coronavirus data in Orange County, as it usually takes at least two weeks for the numbers to reflect major changes.

One trend Pino did point out during Monday’s news conference though, is the decrease in the median age of COVID-19 infections in the county. Right now, the median age of COVID-19 cases in Orange County is 33.21, Pino said.

“But also we have some concerns that the mayor ... mentioned the fact that 54% of all cases are between, you know, 15 to 34. And it’s basically young adults and their parents. That’s where the pandemic is right now,” Pino said.

Pino said the county’s median age is decreasing faster than the state’s, which was 38 on Sunday, according to the Florida Department of Health’s daily COVID-19 report.

Orange County has reported 39,056 cases of COVID-19 and 431 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic first began in March, according to the latest numbers. Florida has reported a statewide total of 685,439 infections and 13,480 deaths.

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