As Florida continues to struggle with what Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings called “its worst public health crisis since the coronavirus pandemic started,” economic shocks are beginning to hit the heart of the tourism sector again.
Four more big conventions slated for the Orange County Convention Center have pulled out, including one that was expected to bring 10,000 members of the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers to Orlando late this month, Demings said Tuesday.
Together, the four show cancellations are expected to cost Orange County $43.9 million in economic impact, Demings said.
Last week Demings announced the cancellation of another show, which he said was a loss of $12 million to $15 million to the community.
“As Florida faces its worst public health crisis since the coronavirus pandemic started nearly 18 months ago, we’ve continued to see, now and for the foreseeable future, at least the reminder of this month, shows being canceled,” Demings said.
He and other county officials, however, expressed more concern Thursday for the public health impact of the summer surge of COVID-19, rather than for the economic impact.
The county has been averaging more than 1,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases each day lately.
The county opened a second drive-up public testing site on Tuesday. The county’s positive test rate continues to climb, topping 20% for tests administered over the past 14 days. The new site, in the Econlockhatcheee Soccer Fields on the east side, and the county’s other site, at Barnett Park on the west side, both are running at or near capacity, administering about 3,000 tests per day between them.
Dr. Raul Pino, Orange County’s health officer for the Florida Department of Health, said 15 new deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since the county’s last press conference on Monday. Orange County confirmed 45 COVID-19 deaths that occurred in July, up from 31 in June, he said.
“If the pandemic continues to behave the way that it has behaved in the past, we should continue to see an increase in the number of hospitalizations next week, and we should continue to see an increase in the number of deaths,” Pino said.
He noted that it takes about two weeks for increases in emergency room visits and hospitalizations to lead to increases in deaths.
“We suspect that the next two weeks are going to be rough,” he said.
Pino did offer two points for hope.
First, the curve of the graph of new cases, though still rising, is flattening a little bit, suggesting a slowdown in the surge. However, he said it is too early to make much of that.
Second, Orange County’s vaccination rate has been going up steadily, by about 200-300 additional vaccinations a day compared with the day before, most days. The more people vaccinated, the fewer hospitalizations and deaths can be expected, he said.
Currently, 63.4% of all Orange County residents eligible to be vaccinated have received at least one shot, he said.
Demings extended his executive order declaring a state of emergency for the county another seven days.
Demings praised local employers for pushing for masks and vaccinations. He said the county, local officials, and employers are doing all they can.
He said he would welcome more resources from the state, particularly to open a third testing site.
“I’m not aware of any additional resources the state has offered up at this point. We have pretty much been left to our own ingenuity to figure out for ourselves,” he said. “But we certainly would welcome any assistance from the state in that regard.”