Orange County leaders expect to reach phase 3 of masking guidelines soon

County, Orlando International Airport bracing for a busy summer travel season

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County leaders are optimistic that the county will reach one of the milestones it set in order to reach phase 3 of the masking and social distancing guidelines.

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/or the 14-day rolling positivity rate is at 5% or below. At that point, all guidelines would be lifted.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced Wednesday during a news briefing at Orlando International Airport that the county is close to reaching that 14-day rolling positivity rate of less than 5%.

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“That will be another pinnacle, and it appears that we will reach that sometime in the very, very near future,” Demings said.

Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County elaborated on those numbers further.

“I mean the county could not be in a better position,” Pino said. “Today our positivity rate is 3.4%. The average rolling that the mayor mentioned to you is 5.2%.”

Pino added that this could be the first week where the positivity rate ends up below 5%, but he would not know for sure until the end of the week.

“Everything has been below five for the last few days, so the week should behave the same way,” he said. “So more likely, either next week or the week after, we’ll probably reach the milestone of two consecutive weeks at less than 5% — if nothing changes in the dynamics.”

The doctor added the county’s recovery rate for people who catch COVID-19 has reached 98%.

“We cannot do better than that,” Pino said.

All of this brought a tone of optimism to the news conference held against the backdrop of MCO. Airport CEO Phil Brown was among the speakers Wednesday, forecasting a busy travel summer travel season for the airport as it is still working to spring back to pre-pandemic travel numbers.

“We’re getting back to where we needed to be when you look at their 2019 numbers,” Brown said. “We’re at about 76% of where we were compared to 2019. So we’re making progress.”

Brown also predicted a return of more international travel to OIA after the leaders of the European Union met Wednesday as well, agreeing to relax some of its travel restrictions.

We’re expecting to see, in the summer, some increase in flights we already have scheduled from British carriers and European carriers, and we’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to reach an agreement with them at the federal level so that those folks can start flying back into Orlando International Airport and enjoy everything that we have the offer,” Brown said.

While Brown did project a measure of optimism, he also predicted that it will still take some time for the airport to fully return to its pre-pandemic travel numbers.

“Right now, we’re just talking about a month-to-month comparison. To me, it’s going to be on an annualized basis as to whether we’re going to be able to get to 51 million (rolling 12-month average of passengers). I don’t think we hit that number — which is where we were on an annualized basis in February of 2020 — I don’t think we probably hit that number until (2022) to (2023),” he said.

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.