Orange County announces changes to COVID-19 rules, guidelines

New Florida law puts limits on emergency powers of local governments

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – UPDATE: Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced a local state of emergency on Wednesday. Learn more about the announcement and read his executive order by clicking here. You will find our original story prior to Wednesday’s announcement below.

As Florida sees a surge in new COVID-19 cases, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings plans to take action to slow the spread of the virus in Central Florida’s most populous county.

In an exclusive interview with News 6 on Tuesday, Demings said he plans to announce the changes to the county’s guidelines and restrictions on Wednesday.

“We will make some announcements about the adjustments we are going to make. We will make adjustments internal to the county and other adjustments externally that we can do under the laws of the state,” he said.

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This comes a day after the mayor announced Orange County is seeing nearly 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per day.

“What we don’t have is the luxury of doing nothing,” he said. “That is not what we are going to do here.”

Demings did not go into detail about what those “adjustments” would be but said it would impact the use of masks and vaccinations within the county. He plans to announce the changes at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday during a news conference.

The law the mayor was referring to is SB 1924, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May. The law 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 governor the power to invalidate a local emergency order.

Last week, Demings lamented his inability to enact changes within the county in response to the rise in new COVID-19 cases.

“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 on July 19.

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 during last week’s news conference. “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.”

However, Demings now believes the county can reach that “insurmountable standard.”

[MORE COVERAGE: ‘We are in crisis mode’ Orange County leaders say | Florida averages nearly 10,500 cases per day]

“We are still studying it at this point, but suffice to say with all the experts we need to touch base with, that’s what we are doing and running various data sets to provide the information we need to make a competent decision about the best interest of the residents and visitors in the area,” he said.

Demings said the decision to pursue these “adjustments” to the county’s coronavirus protocols comes as hospitals and doctors within the county have been in communication with him about the surge in COVID-19 cases they are seeing.

“When the hospitals come to me and they say we have reached a critical point where they have to declare that they have to suspend elective surgeries and they are at a heightened level of risk factors within their hospitals and they are seeing their numbers go up — that all suggests we have to take action.”

Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County has compared the current number of new infections to what was seen in January when the state saw its highest peak of infections reported.

“I have done my due diligence. We are continuing to gather some additional data and facts by which we will make some decisions,” Demings said.

According to the county, 61.59% of Orange County residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The county’s 14-day rolling positivity rate for new COVID-19 cases is 13.96%.

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About the Authors:

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.