‘We’ll just have to wait and see:’ Orange leaders say county not yet fined over vaccine mandate

Fines threatened by Gov. DeSantis were supposed to begin Thursday

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County leaders say they have yet to receive any notice on potential fines stemming from the mandate that county employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing their jobs.

“The state of Florida had not even promulgated rules of how to do enforcement, and we have not received any correspondence from the Department of Health, about violating those rules and we’ll just have to wait and see,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said during a news conference on Friday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened those fines during a news conference on Monday in which he named Orange County specifically as potential target for the punitive measure.

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“You will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation (mandated vaccine) and so if you look at places here in Alachua County, like the city of Gainesville, I mean that’s millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines, Orange County (will see) many, many more than that,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis signed an executive order earlier this year banning so-called vaccine passports or requiring proof of vaccination and Florida lawmakers passed a new law that also includes a vaccine passport ban. That rule went into effect on Thursday and will be enforced by the Department of Health.

According to a spokesperson for the governor, the law would impose a fine of $5,000 per violation of the vaccine passport ban, meaning for every person who did not get vaccinated and then was required to, the county, city or employer would be fined $5,000.

However, Demings said the county remains within its rights to require its employees to get the vaccine.

“Our county attorney’s office believes that we are on solid legal grounds, both from a federal and a state perspective and so we know that something was wrong with the directive that Gov. DeSantis put out — primarily because there were no rules in place and so we’ll just have to see how that all works out,” Demings said.

Despite that vote of confidence from the county’s attorney, Demings still predicted a legal battle over the vaccine mandate.

“We likely will end up in litigation over if we receive notices of fines. We will go through the process and do our respective appeals,” he said.

Even with potential litigation over the vaccine mandate on the horizon, most city workers are complying with the order.

“County employees getting a vaccination is good news as well. Seventy-eight percent of county employees have received at least one or more shots. This breaks down to 87% of non-union employees have at least one shot and 63% of union employees have been vaccinated. So we have until the end of this month to get the remaining number of county employees vaccinated,” Demings said.

The mayor did note some difficulty with vaccinations among union workers.

“The only union of county employees that has not signed the agreement are the firefighters union. We continue to have dialogue with them,” Demings said.

Among the general population, county leaders said that vaccination rates continue to trend upward.

“As of today, 72% of eligible residents ages 12 and up, have received one or more doses of the vaccine,” Demings said.

Kent Donahue, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, added that the positivity rate within the county is also trending downward.

“Our 14-day rolling average, percent positive is now down to 12.32%,” Donahue said. “Five weeks ago, we reached our peak so each and every day since then we’ve seen a decrease in cases but also the percent positive. So, we’re trending in the right direction.”

However, despite that decrease, the county has seen 85 additional deaths reported since Monday, according to Donahue.

“One date of death is associated with July of this year, 49 dates of death are from August of this year and 35 dates are from September,” he added.

The county’s current death toll from COVID is 1,864. The mayor added that the state has also topped 50,000 deaths from COVID-19 since tracking began in March of last year.

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.