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Jerry Demings, Buddy Dyer brace Orlando for uncertain but likely hard times

Recommending cancellation of meetings of more than 250 people.

Considering the economic impact of the coronavirus on Orange County so far, the longterm prospects are leading Orange County and Orlando leaders to brace for huge hardship as the area’s tourism engine sputters toward a stop, choked on concerns over coronavirus.

In a city where much of the economy is driven by 75 million visitors a year to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, the country’s second-largest convention center and a slew of other convention and tourist attractions, as well as hotels and restaurants, the cascade of closures and cancellations this week have brought the city into sudden crisis.

But Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on Friday sought to reassure, as leaders who’ve been through the 9-11 shutdowns, multiple hurricanes, and the Great Recession. None of them were quite like what the coronavirus may be capable of, with what Demings projected could be a six-to-eight week, or longer, impact.

Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have closed. SeaWorld will close beginning Monday. The convention business is shutting down. Sports and entertainment events are canceling.

“We are living in some unusual times that call for unusual measures,” Demings said. “Within the past 24 hours a lot has changed around the world, in U.S. and certainly in Orange County.

“All of Florida, all of America, before this is all over, this virus will have a multi-trillion dollar impact,” Demings projected.

Both Demings and Dyer announced they have urged the cancellation or postponement of meetings of more than 250 people, at least through the end of the month.

“Our main purpose is to slow the spread of the virus and to mitigate its impact on our community, both economically and health-wise,” Dyer said.

Both called for federal and state relief money to address the impact on people losing jobs, or needing health care if they cannot afford it.

Their recommendations to limit gatherings to 250 people might have projected far-reaching consequences, except that it already was being voluntarily pursued by theme parks, convention planners, sports teams and others before the Mayors spoke Friday.

And neither Mayor appeared able or willing to push the issue any harder than to offer it as a recommendation. They did not even take official actions to shut down city and county-controlled venues including the Orange County Convention Center, Amway Center, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Camping World Stadium, or Bob Carr Theater.

Big convention center events have all canceled, as have big events in the Amway. There are none scheduled for the stadium through April 1.

“From the city side, a lot of the events, I’d say most of the events, have self-regulated,” Dyer offered. “So I think our residents and our organizations are being responsible.”

Yet they are leaving the publicly-controlled venues available, particularly for private and family events, including weddings.

Demings signed an executive order declaring a county emergency, and opening the county’s emergency management center. The county is canceling activities involving gatherings of senior citizens, though senior centers are not being closed. Spring break camps will go on as planned, though outside field trips will be canceled. County special events will be postponed, such as a bluegrass music festival. County-run youth sports leagues will be suspended until further notice. Private sports leagues are doing voluntary cancellations, Demings said.

Dyer also signed an order declaring a city emergency. He called for “rational and reasonable measures.” Dyer is canceling city events through the end of the month, including a farmers’ market, and closed senior centers.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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