Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings declared a new state of emergency for his county as COVID-19 cases surge to new worst-ever levels.
Demings’ order urges other public and private sector employers, including big ones like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, to require masks indoors and require employees to get vaccinated.
It urges county residents to wear masks in indoor gathering spaces.
His order also requires that Orange County employees wear masks indoors and mandates that all nonunion employees get vaccinated, with a first shot due by the end of August.
Citing exploding and disturbing new trends of COVID-19 cases — what he said was a county one-day record of 1,371 new cases confirmed Tuesday, a record positive test rate, and rapidly increasing admissions at area hospitals — Demings said the community is in crisis.
“The crisis continues in our area hospitals, and they are seeing a significant and swift increase in COVID patients,” Demings said.
Orange County is participating in a national study tapping data collected from wastewater to look for COVID-19 RNA. Those findings are showing a rapid increase right now, Demings said, meaning county officials are expecting things to get worse soon.
“I don’t want to see another person die. I don’t want to see another person test positive in our community. But what I do know is that if we keep seeing 1,000 new cases a day, hospitalizations will continue to go up. People will die,” Demings said.
He also made his case that the crisis is or could soon become an economic problem if (and when) the tourism and convention organizers and customers get nervous about the surge of COVID-19 in Orange County.
Demings said a major conference has just been canceled at the Orange County Convention Center: “That’s a $12 to $15 million economic loss for our community.”
He also is reconvening his Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. The goal is to keep the economy fully open, Demings said.
To do that, he added, precautions must be implemented to assure that it is safe. That is particularly important as the world’s tourists decide whether it is safe to travel to Orlando, he said.
“If we pull together, we can avoid a collapse of our economy that would be self-inflicted,” Demings said. “We have the solutions that can help keep our economy churning.”
Demings order requiring county employee vaccinations covers only the Orange County employees who work under his administration. The order immediately affects the 4,200 nonunion employees. The county is negotiating with unions to develop standards for the 3,400 union members as well, Demings said. Employees who meet legal standards for exemptions will be exempted.
Orange County employees who work under the county’s six constitutional officers, including the thousands of sheriff’s deputies under Sheriff John Mina, will not be affected by Demings’ order. Demings urged the constitutional officers to develop their own orders.
One already has. Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph announced mask and vaccination requirements for his employees Monday.
Demings said employees who refuse will be disciplined, but he said firings would only come after progressive disciplinary actions.
“We have researched this in terms of our legal authority to do mandates, and our county attorney says we are on solid legal ground,” Demings said.
A representative of Orange County Public Schools said the school Board has the authority to increase its requirements based on guidelines from local officials or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Students report in 13 days.