Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is lifting his COVID-19 emergency order Wednesday, citing low COVID-19 transmission rates. But he warns he could reconsider if things get bad again.
Demings is allowing the previous emergency order to expire at 3:04 p.m. Wednesday without issuing an extension.
“We will no longer be in a state of local emergency,” Demings said Wednesday morning at his weekly COVID-19 press briefing.
“While this would be good news for some, if there ever would be another deadly wave of cases here within our county, I reserve the right to put the emergency order back in place to make sure we do everything possible to slow the spread,” he added. “I hope that will never happen. But we don’t know precisely what this virus is capable of.”
The move will have few practical effects outside of county government, as the order Demings issued July 28 primarily affected only county employees. The order required employees to get vaccinated. Many did, and those that did not received written reprimands. That is done.
The lifting of the order means those employees who did not get vaccinated will no longer have to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.
However, Demings said he will continue to require county employees to wear masks indoors until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changes Orange County’s risk level from from “substantial” to “moderate.”
Beyond that, it’s a symbolic declaration to be considered by the general public. Orange County Public Schools, which is considering whether to extend its student mask mandate beyond a Saturday expiration might also take notice. It might also send a message to private employers, who may have used the county emergency as the impetus for company-wide requirements.
Orange County Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said Tuesday night she would decide by Thursday whether to extend the schools’ mask mandate.
“People still have a responsibility to act in the safest manner that they can,” Demings said. “The school district, I think they have to make some decisions.”
Demings said the state’s rolling 14-day positive-test rate for COVID-19 is now down to 3.5%, below the 5% goal he had set for a two-week period in order to end the state of emergency.
The county’s COVID-19 testing program will continue to operate.
He expressed gratitude toward people who got vaccinated and encouraged others to do the same.
“You, our community, have demonstrated how much you care for your families, your friends and your neighbors,” Demings said.
Demings’ emergency order was among the strongest flashpoint between many local leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Mayor expressed frustration that his emergency order could not impact the general public in the county, noting the Governor had banned local orders in May.
He also expressed strong remorse — looking and sounding emotional — that, in his view, the COVID-19 situation had become highly politicized, especially in the past three months or so as Florida and Orange County suffered through the worst and deadliest surge yet, then saw it abate.
He also noted the final toll is not entirely over, as 34 more Orange County residents were reported to have died from COVID-19 since last Thursday, raising the county’s death toll to 2,178 over 19 months.
People making decisions in Tallahassee he said (without being specific to DeSantis or anyone else,) “haven’t been on the ground here, when the going was bad.”
“It’s remarkable to me that this whole dynamic has been so politicized. In the last three months it probably got more politicized than it ever was. And that’s a shame,” he said.