‘It just didn’t work out:’ Orlando leaders learn lesson after big Halloween crowds

Health officials concerned about post-Halloween COVID-19 spike similar to Memorial Day

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says a pilot program to help alleviate the expected big crowds in downtown Orlando on Halloween night didn’t work.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says a pilot program to help alleviate the expected big crowds in downtown Orlando on Halloween night didn’t work. Instead, he said tens of thousands of costumed crowds packed the downtown area in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

“We were trying to do what was right and it just didn’t work out better,” Dyer said Monday. “A lot of people were out there without masks, without social distancing so I am concerned whether there was some spread of COVID Saturday night downtown.”

Heading into Halloween night, Dyer said the city tried a new approach and allowed open containers in the street, but images of mass maskless crowds now have him concerned.

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“One of the actions we took was to allow people to bring their drinks outside the bars and we thought that would help with the socially distancing,” Dyer said. “But I don’t think we will do it again.”

According to the mayor, he spoke with Orlando Police officials who said the crowd on Saturday night was about 75-80% of a normal crowd, before COVID-19.

“We were happy for the establishments that have been hurt so badly, but I was disappointed by how many people weren’t wearing masks,” Dyer said.

For Patrick Griffin, Bar Manager of the Wall Street Plaza it’s a toss of up on the two sides of this pandemic, welcoming the big boost for needed business but the crowds did get overwhelming, he said.

“We opened up all the doors to try to make sure everybody could spread out, but it was a really good weekend, so it got hard to do,” he said. “It’s hard, it’s really hard. In the future, we won’t underestimate the crowd. We will have our normal celebrations but also with an eye on the numbers are. We aren’t going to break the rules just to push a big night if it’s not safe.”

Monday afternoon Orange County health officer Dr. Raul Pino said the majority of cases in the county are among the ages of 15-35 and about 75% of those in that group are high school and college aged. He said the data now is very similar to before Memorial Day, after which the state saw a spike in cases. Pino said he is concerned that will happen after Halloween now, too.

“The situation in the data is very similar to where we were before Memorial Day and that concerns me,” Pino said. “Who knows if the numbers go higher what we will have to do because there are not that many tools left in the tool box ... so it’s concerning and disheartening.”

As for the try-out of allowing open containers to help with social distancing, Dyer said it’s not something they plan to do again.

“Lesson learned is we did that kind of as a pilot and we won’t be doing it again,” Dyer said.