Orange County health officials predict increase in COVID-19 deaths as cases surge

County to open new coronavirus testing site Tuesday

Dr. Raul Pino alongside Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.
Dr. Raul Pino alongside Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. (Courtesy: Dr. Raul Pino, Copyright WKMG, ClickOrlando.com)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County leaders detailed the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the county during a news conference on Monday afternoon, suggesting that more deaths from the virus may not be far behind.

“We are suspecting there is going to be an increase in the coming weeks — maybe starting next week — on the number of deaths because we have not seen those yet from this recent increase that we are experiencing,” Dr. Raul Pino with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County said.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the county had seen 12 additional deaths since the county’s last briefing on July 28.

“In fact, since our last briefing we (held a funeral for) one of our correctional officers — a 40-year-old female who died as a result of COVID-19. The number of deaths in Orange County now stands at 1,402,” the mayor said.

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Demings added that the county is still seeing about 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per day with a 14-day rolling positivity rate of 17.97%.

Because of this substantial increase in cases, Chief Judge Lisa Munyon of the 9th circuit court, which covers both Orange and Osceola Counties, announced that masks are now mandatory within the courthouse.

“Masks are now required in all public spaces of court facilities, including our courtrooms and hearing rooms,” Munyon said. “Masks are available at the door if you arrive at the courthouse without one.”

She later explained that because the Florida Supreme Court is its own branch of government, it is not required to follow the state’s ban on mask mandates.

“Last Thursday the Florida Supreme Court issued a new administrative order giving chief judges of the circuits the ability to respond to local conditions and, because local conditions in Orange and Osceola Counties are at the state that they are right now, I issued an administrative order requiring masks to be worn,” Munyon said. “We are a different branch of government, and unlike other government services where you can decide whether you want to go to the tax collector’s office or deal with the tax collector online, we force you to come see us. So, because we force you to come see us, we have to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep those that are in our building safe.”

Also because of rising cases, Orange County will open a second large-scale COVID-19 testing site at Econ Soccer Complex beginning Tuesday. The site will offer PCR, molecular or rapid/antigen tests. Unlike Barnett Park, the new testing site won’t offer vaccines just yet, only free COVID-19 testing.

On a positive note, the mayor said the county is seeing nearly 5,000 people getting vaccinated daily, about 70% of those vaccinations are first doses.

Earlier in the day, the mayor met with Orange County’s largest employers to discuss ideas and best practices to stop the surge of COVID-19 cases as part of the Orange County’s Economic Recovery Task Force, which has not met in more than a year prior to Monday’s meeting.

Walt Disney World is already mandating masks indoors for guests and mandating vaccinations for all U.S.-based salaried and “non-union” employees within 60 days. Walt Disney World is Central Florida’s largest employer with nearly 60,000 on staff locally.

Other companies are already following suit, as explained by Doug Taylor with Church Street Entertainment.

“This week, by the end of the week we are putting the finishing touches on a likely mandatory vaccine policy, as a part of the policy exploring the use of incentive,” Taylor said. “We will require any new employees to be vaccinated.”

Prior to Monday afternoon’s news conference, protesters gathered outside the county offices, protesting the mayor’s internal audit which requires county employees to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30.

People protesting Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings policies on masks and vaccines for county workers (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. 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.