ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – One day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people no longer had to wear a mask outdoors except in crowded settings, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced the county’s three-phased plan for rolling back its mask mandate.
“As I have said many, many times before here in Orange County, we do follow the science,” Demings said. “And after receiving research from multiple sources, including the Florida Department of Health, the University of Central Florida and local hospitals, I have amended my facial covering executive order.”
The first phase of the three-phased plan took effect immediately. It reduces physical distancing requirements from 6 feet to 3 feet and aligns the rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated people with the CDC guidelines put out Tuesday.
The second phase does not take effect until 50% of Orange County’s 16-and-older population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This phase lifts the mask mandate for all outdoor activities for everyone in the county, though people will still be required to maintain at least 3 feet of distance between groups. The county will still require masks for indoor activities, except when people are eating or drinking.
The mayor and Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County seemed optimistic that the county could reach phase two in less than a month.
“So it all depends on all things considered, and if we keep the same level of immunizations that we have,” Pino said. “We should be there before, three weeks at the 50%. Other things could happen. We could vaccinate more people, and then get there quicker, or perhaps if the federal government released the data from the VA and the Department of Defense, we probably could see a quick increase of the number of vaccinated people that are not currently in our databases.”
Phase three becomes effective when 70% of the county’s 16-and-older population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and the 14-day rolling positivity rate is at 5% or below, according to Demings. At that point, all mandates would be lifted.
The mayor stressed the importance of pushing the positivity rate below 5%.
“To put all of this into perspective, the 14-day rolling positivity rate yesterday was 8%. We have to work hard to get down to 5%. Also, the number of Orange County residents 16 and older who have had at least one dose of the vaccine is 43.4%. Remember, the goal is to get up to, at least, 70%. I believe these are sensible and achievable goals,” Demings said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
The mayor added that people need to remain cautious and assume that others are not vaccinated, unless they know for certain that they are.
“We are still in the midst of a pandemic. The virus is still spreading in our community. So we, collectively all of the residents of Orange County, still have this responsibility to help protect ourselves and our entire community,” Demings said.
He added that while they believe the county will reach phase two of this plan within three weeks, it is unclear when phase three could take effect.
“We cannot say with certainty because we don’t have a crystal ball to say when we will get to that point, as it relates to the 14-day rolling positivity rate,” he said. “What we’re saying there is there has to be a sustained, 14 day period of time where it is at 5% or below in order to meet the second portion of that provision under the phase three requirements.”