Vaccinations, masks, and testing programs are alleviating the summer surge of COVID-19 in Orange County, Mayor Jerry Demings said Monday.
Demings and other Orange County officials expressed optimism that falling numbers of new cases and positive test rates show the county is emerging from the worst surge of COVID-19 yet in the coronavirus crisis.
For the trend to continue, they said, the county needs to continue aggressively encouraging vaccines, masks, and virus testing. For that purpose, Demings announced Monday he is extending operations at the county’s three major testing sites and at the vaccination site at Camping World Stadium through the end of October.
“Essentially, this validates that our strategy of driving up the rates of vaccinations and increasing testing, and also returning to the wearing of facial coverings, has worked,” Demings said Monday.
Demings’ comments contrast with those of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has encouraged vaccinations and masks — but only as personal choices, and never with the enthusiasm that Demings projected Monday or in his past news conferences on COVID-19.
The Governor has focused in recent weeks on encouraging people who have contracted COVID-19 to get monoclonal antibody treatments. Such treatments are effective in reducing the virus’ severity and risk of death, but they do not reduce infection rates.
The Orange County Mayor has sought to mandate vaccinations and mask wearing to the extent he considers possible without running too afoul of DeSantis’ executive orders banning mandates. His county executive order in July requires mask wearing indoors by county workers and vaccinations for nonunion county workers, and encourages private employers to enact similar rules.
DeSantis threatened to fine local governments that implement mask and vaccination mandates. Demings said Orange County has not received any formal notice from the state.
Demings’ comments Monday came with updates showing the county saw its weekly total of new COVID-19 cases fall to 3,544, down from nearly 20,000 in a week in early August; and saw the county’s running 14-day COVID-19 positive test rate fall to 11.3%, down from more than 20% a few weeks ago.
Florida also has seen significant drops in cases and positive test rates statewide, though not universally across all areas of the state
“Our goal is to get the positivity rate sustained below 5% over a period of time. … I believe that as we continue to focus on getting individuals vaccinated, focus on continuing to get individuals tested, and if we continue to wear our facial coverings, we will get there sooner rather than later,” Demings said.
“Perhaps if we do these things this will be the last significant surge of the pandemic,” Demings added. “This is largely a pandemic within the unvaccinated in our community. So if we can increase the rate of vaccinations we all will fare much better in the coming weeks and months.”