ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County continues to make gains it the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Jerry Demings said Wednesday during his weekly briefing.
The mayor said the county could reach phase 3, which initially meant he would lift all mask mandates and COVID-19 rules, by Friday. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, recently eliminated COVID mandates across the state, including local restrictions.
According to Demings, Wednesday marked the 11th straight day that the county’s 14-day rolling coronavirus positivity rate has been at 5% or below. Under the county rules, which cannot be enforced due to DeSantis’ order, there must either be a positivity rate below 5% for 14 consecutive days, or 70% of the county’s 16-and-older population with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, in order to reach phase 3.
Demings said residents will still be encouraged to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“What actually changes here in terms of the guidance that we have given is that currently, under phase 2, individuals are not required by the county to wear a facial covering while outside, outdoors, and we still recommend that individuals, if they’re indoors, socially distance and wear facial coverings, while, when we reach phase 3, there will be no county-based mandates, requirements for individuals to wear facial coverings, while indoors. There still will be CDC guidelines,” Demings said.
The latest guidance from the CDC suggests those fully vaccinated can ditch masks in most indoor settings.
Demings is encouraging Central Floridians not to let their guards down.
“I don’t want people to assume that things are totally back to normal because they will not be at that point. But we’re simply trying to give guidance to our community with reasonable benchmarks, where people have an idea about what the living experience should be for them within our county,” Demings said. “We still will have a number of tourists who will be coming in, who will be visiting in our county, because we’ll be in the midst of a very active, summer vacation period of time.”
Already, the hospitality industry is preparing for a busy summer ahead, Demings said, with summer travel expected to pick back up and events now taking place again. The mayor said 14 events, which are expected to bring millions of dollars to the region, are scheduled to take place at the Orange County Convention Center in June alone.
As of Wednesday, just over 55% of the county’s 16-and-older population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Demings said even if the county enters phase 3 this week, leaders will still urge residents to get inoculated in an effort to reach that Independence Day goal.
When asked his vision for July 4, Demings said he expects the spread of the virus to remain under control in hopes that more people will be vaccinated by then.
“I think on July 4, we can anticipate a robust amount of activity and tourist visits here within our area. I believe our airport is going to be extremely busy. And I believe that we certainly will be higher in terms of the rate of those who’ve been vaccinated within our community at that point,” Demings said. “So I believe that we will still likely be below the 5%, where we would have contained the virus within our community. Because people are continuing to get inoculated and that’s good news for our community. I believe our economy will be thriving. At that point, and we’ll be well on our way to recover.”
Demings said the county, much like the nation as a whole, has been through a lot. He plans to take a look at how far the county has come since last year and what lies ahead during his annual State of the County address on Friday, he said during Wednesday’s update.
“We have been through a painful, difficult year, and I will highlight the effects the pandemic has had on Orange County, but we are looking forward to the future,” Demings said.