ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange County officials provided an update on COVID-19 cases and mitigation efforts on Wednesday, after a month that saw omicron cases hit their peak, two mayors catch COVID-19 and the county’s health officer get suspended.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings provided the update from the Orange County administration building in downtown Orlando.
Demings said he didn’t experience the two of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 -- a cough or shortness of breath. He said he never stopped working despite his illness either.
“If I had tested positive in 2020, I probably would not have had the same experience that I had in 2022,” Demings said. “If I had tested positive in the summer of 2021, I probably would have had a different experience than I have now. So my experience has to be one that is looked at through the lens and the context of what’s happening right now.”
Demings said he is both vaccinated and boosted, and early on in his illness he got a monoclonal antibody treatment. But whether all of that contributed to the mild experience he had, he said he didn’t know.
“So I still encourage everybody. You are not vaccinated, go get vaccinated, OK? You can hedge your bet. You increase the probability that you’re not going to be significantly impacted if you’re vaccinated,” Demings said.
It also marked the second update without Dr. Raul Pino, who was suspended by the state last month after an email was made public in which he berated the staff at the Florida Dept. of Health in Orange County for its low vaccination rate.
The state is investigating whether Pino violated state laws that ban COVID-19 vaccination mandates for public workers.
The state did not send a representative from the health department to the news conference.
“You can only fill in the blanks there why there is no representative here,” Demings said.
According to the county, the 14-day rolling positivity rate for Orange County was 25.8%. In the past three weeks, new cases have been predominantly from the 25-44 age group, which represented 34% of new cases.
In the seven days prior to Jan. 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 12,455 new cases and 50 new virus-related deaths in Orange County, records show. Orange County has a high rate of community transmission, according to the CDC, as do most counties in the country.
The good news is that the positivity rate is trending down from a high above 40% that Demings reported Jan. 11, and the latest data shows 75% of eligible county residents have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the county. The county is extending all three of its drive-thru testing sites through Feb. 28.
Orange County Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins also spoke about a decrease in COVID cases and absences throughout the district compared to where it was at the start of 2022.
“Our absenteeism is back close to what we’ve had in previous years. This time of year, we were in excess of 20% absenteeism. We are now below 9%,” Jenkins said.