ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County leaders gave an update on the county’s COVID-19 response just days after Mayor Jerry Demings said he was making plans in case it becomes necessary to take action to combat a rising number of coronavirus cases.
“Today, in Orange County we have reported 517 new cases from just yesterday alone. We have seen the numbers as high as 700 plus over this past weekend. All of these cases were unvaccinated individuals,” Demings said.
Dr. Raul Pino, from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said Monday that the county is now seeing new COVID-19 cases in numbers similar to what was seen in January which is when the state saw its highest peak of new cases.
“With regard to age, it continues to be 15 to 44 years old. That’s what we have the highest number of cases,” Pino said. “And that’s probably where we have also the lowest vaccination rates.”
Pino has said for several weeks that each new infection is a chance for the virus to mutate again and create a variant that is even more infectious than the delta variant, which is currently the dominant strain in the U.S.
“Variants could get more aggressive. We could see more damages coming down if we don’t take the steps that we need to take,” Pino said. “And it rests on every single individual, right now that is unvaccinated, to make that decision (to get inoculated).”
The rising number of cases extends beyond Orange County to the entire state. On Friday, the state released its weekly report detailing where Florida stands with new infections, deaths and vaccinations. The report showed the state had averaged 6,515 new infections report per day in the previous week. The report before that showed Florida had averaged about 3,380 cases per day.
The mayor reiterated his recommendation that all county residents, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, return to wearing facial coverings while in crowded indoor locations.
“My appeal relates to the businesses as well. We ask our businesses to voluntarily comply with this recommendation that you seriously consider requiring those who patronize and your businesses to wear facial coverings,” Demings said.
On Friday, the mayor told News 6 that the county was “exploring all options” when it comes to stemming the rising tide of new infections. This included legal options that the county could take to enact a state of emergency. However, the mayor now says the bar may be too high for the county or any local government to make such a declaration.
“We find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum at the local level, because of the new law created by the governor and the Florida Legislature, which restricts local government’s ability to enact mandates during a public health crisis,” the mayor said.
The law that the mayor was referring to is SB 1924, which the governor signed in May. It took effect on July 1 and requires emergency orders to come in 7-day increments and local governments must “satisfy demanding and continuous justifications” for those orders to extend further, but only to a maximum of 42 days. It also gives the Florida governor the power to invalidate a local emergency order.
“Any such mandates will have to be narrowly tailored and based on data and cannot infringe on individual or business rights. However, the state controls the data and therein lies part of the problem. We simply can’t reach that high legal bar,” Demings said.
The county’s attorney, Jeffrey J. Newton, echoed the mayor’s understanding of the restrictions on local governments.
“In this past legislative session, the legislature approved amendments to the Emergency Management Act. And those amendments were approved by the governor, as well,’ Newton said. “And part of that act requires that any mandate, dealing with a pandemic, or I should say a non-weather related emergency, must be narrowly tailored and not infringe upon the rights, or liberties of individuals or businesses, and that is a very, very high legal standard, It’s almost, at least in my opinion, an insurmountable standard.”