‘We’re about to enter a critical phase:’ Orange County doctor urges caution to avoid COVID-19 surge

Residents should get tested after Thanksgiving celebrations

Signs in a hallway reminds students to wear masks and distance themselves at Fox Trail Elementary School, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, in Davie, Fla. Broward County, Florida schools began a phased reopening for face-to-face eLearning Friday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Parts of the country are experiencing a third wave in COVID-19 infections and if Floridians want to avoid the same fate, action should be taken now.

Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health said it’s even more crucial to following guidelines designed to stop the respiratory illness from spreading, especially to those who are most at risk of dying or developing serious complications.

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“For COVID-19, these messages are really important right now, we are about to enter a critical phase in the pandemic: Stay home if you feel sick, wear your mask, wash your hands often, avoid crowds, close spaces and close contact, watch your distance, clean and disinfect surfaces that are often touched,” Pino said.

He also encouraged anyone who traveled or visited with family members or friends from outside of their household to get tested in case they unknowingly contracted the virus. This applies even to those who don’t have a fever, cough or any of the other telltale symptoms.

“Our concern is asymptomatic people. It is about 25% of all cases in Orange County and in some areas of the country it’s up to 50% and those are critical in the transmission of the disease because if you don’t feel sick, if you don’t look sick, you will not protect yourself and others will not protect from you and transmission would happen,” Pino said.

The doctor said that county’s supply of hospital beds and ventilators remains healthy as of now and with a vaccine possibly just a few weeks away, citizens need to keep their guards up so Florida can potentially avoid a third wave of infections.

“Now, as you know, many areas of the country have been experiencing a third wave... We are not there yet but it depends on us, how that goes. If we observe those prevention strategies that I talked to you (about) before, we will be in good shape,” Pino said.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he’s examining ways to get more businesses to abide by those guidelines, particularly after photos circulated on TMZ of a local nightclub packed for a concert during the holiday weekend.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order, which was recently extended, that prohibits local governments from ordering restaurants to close and from fining residents who violate mask mandates.

Demings said on Nov. 23 that he spoke with the county’s attorney and determined that he still has the power “to create penalties or fines for businesses who are deemed to be noncompliant.” During that news conference a week ago, Demings said he didn’t have plans to do that because he wanted business owners to comply voluntarily.

On Monday, his message changed.

“I have directed the county attorney to draft an executive order that will likely give me the authority to institute some form of penalties. This would apply to businesses that are habitual violators of the guidance that has been put in place at this time. So, you know, for weeks now, you know, I’ve come in, asked for voluntary compliance and if we have a few bad actors, that’s what we’ll be targeting. It won’t be the businesses who are cooperating and who are compliant. It will be the bad actors,” the mayor said.

Orange County has reported a cumulative total of 58,325 COVID-19 cases, 645 deaths and 1,781 hospitalizations since March.