ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings held one of his regular coronavirus briefings Friday less than 30 minutes after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning local governments from enforcing restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus and placing Florida in the final phase of reopening.
The mayor has not had time to fully review the order signed at 4:06 p.m. but expressed his frustration that local leaders were not given notice about the statewide changes with the new order. The county immediately began receiving questions from businesses and the community about it when DeSantis made the announcement early Friday afternoon but according to Demings, Central Florida government leaders did not know it was coming.
“We have been put in a position this afternoon where numerous businesses have called us and it really isn’t a good look for a governor when we are not all on the same sheet of music,” Demings said.
The governor’s executive order lifted capacity limits at restaurants and enacted a measure that will prohibit local governments from capping capacity at anything less than 50%. Statewide, there will be no capacity restrictions. This falls under phase three of the governor’s reopening plan, the final stage in reopening Florida’s economy.
Some counties have implemented restrictions beyond the governor’s orders. For example, Demings issued a countywide mask mandate requiring residents and visitors to wear masks while in public places. Osceola and Seminole have similar orders in place.
The county attorney was still reviewing the governor’s order as of Friday around 5 p.m.
“I’m disappointed about this because as we deal with this pandemic everything, happens at the local level," Demings said about receiving no notice. “This is where the rubber meets the road and in order for us to be effective at dealing with the virus, we have to have good communications.”
The mayor said it’s difficult for local leaders to respond to questions about the order when they know nothing about it in advance.
The Orange County mask mandate will remain in place, Demings said, because the mandate does not include a penalty or a fine but the county attorney was still reviewing the executive order.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said he first learned of the order when a local bar owner called him and asked “What’s Governor DeSantis doing?” Adding the business owner phrased it in a more colorful way.
“I think there were a lot of businesses, restaurants and bars that were caught off guard,” Dyer said.
Dyer said with phase three, people will have to make decisions about how best to protect themselves, including avoiding places of business they feel are unsafe or not following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
“Irrespective of the governor’s order today, I encourage everybody to continue to exercise pandemic precautions, continue to wear your mask, continue to social distance, continue to practice appropriate hygiene,” Dyer said.
Dyer and Demings both were unsure how the governor’s order would impact theme parks. The new order included theme parks among the businesses that could expand capacity. Universal Orlando and most Disney World theme parks reopened at limited capacity in June.
Florida surpassed 14,000 deaths from the virus on Friday. That death toll includes 444 people who have died in Orange County.