Latest coronavirus figures show Orange County is in ‘very good shape,’ leading doctor says

Pandemic precautions still need to be followed

A man gets the coronavirus vaccine at an outdoor vaccination site at Lakewood Ranch Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
A man gets the coronavirus vaccine at an outdoor vaccination site at Lakewood Ranch Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – After a yearlong battle to stop the spread of COVID-19, things may be looking up in Orange County.

Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health said Monday that he’s optimistic about the most recent coronavirus data, though he cautioned against residents’ letting their guard down so the region doesn’t see another spike.

“I have to say that the county is in very good shape regarding the pandemic as well as the vaccination efforts. Now this doesn’t mean that we have to, in any way, form or shape relax what we are doing because that’s what has brought us to this point, and will bring us a little bit even to a better place if we continue to do so but I have an obligation to tell you the truth and the data is showing that we are in very good shape,” Pino said.

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Since December 2020, about half of the county’s residents who are 65 and older, who are considered most vulnerable, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The recovery rate is about 96% while the positivity rate is hovering around 5%, both signs that the pandemic could be under control.

Orange County has seen a cumulative total of 114,434 COVID-19 cases, 2,386 and 1,104 deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health.

While new cases continue to be reported each day, Pino said he’s seeing improvements.

He mentioned a decline in cases among school-aged children, a decline in the positivity rate in long-term care facilities and fewer deaths overall, though 13 new fatalities have been reported since Thursday, with two of those occurring in January.

“So with that is to say that between the steps that we have taken, the time-lapse since the overlapping holidays that we have, plus the measures that the county and the public has taken have brought us to this point where we can clearly say that we are we are in very good shape,” Pino reiterated.

Still, he said now is not the time to relax mask mandates and social distancing measures. He noted that the future of the pandemic is hard to predict, especially with new more contagious variants popping up.

“We just have to be extremely careful how we proceed in the future so that we don’t commit the mistakes that we have done in the past by relaxing ourselves, traveling too much or going to parties. That continues to be an issue,” Pino said.

Adding to his optimism is the approval of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine and the governor’s decision to expand eligibility requirements so that teachers and first responders over 50 years old can get inoculated.

As far as the new eligibility guidelines, changes are being made now to remove the age filter when booking appointments at the Orange County Convention Center so younger residents who fall into certain categories can book a time slot starting no later than Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, FEMA’s new mass vaccination site at Valencia College’s West Campus off Kirkman Road will open along with its satellite units, which will operate in Engelwood and then Apopka.

The county should get doses from Johnson & Johnson this week, though they won’t be administered at the convention center site. Instead, Pino said those shots will likely be deployed in underserved communities since only one dose is needed and they can easily be stored without stringent refrigeration requirements like the other vaccines.

“The vaccine is going to be very useful in speeding up the vaccination rates, again, as it’s one dose, as you give it people don’t have to come back. It’s just another tool, it adds flexibility because of the temperature that doesn’t have to be controlled, it can be in a regular freezer. So it adds a lot of flexibility to the fight that we are engaging,” Pino said.