Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is updating the local push against the surge of COVID-19 by calling for mandatory vaccinations for county employees and urging all residents and businesses to wear face coverings or masks indoors. Based on the latest local COVID-19 numbers, Mayor Demings said he has signed an executive order declaring a State of Local Emergency for COVID-19. Mayor Demings said the county is attempting to prevent the “collapse of our economy” and to keep businesses including the theme parks open despite the recent delta variant surge.
Orange County is now reporting an all-time high 14-day rolling positivity rate, now above 15%. But Mayor Demings informed the community that Orange County has been participating in the CDC’s monitoring program of wastewater, which could provide a 4-10 day advance warning of spikes. Officials are finding a “substantial increase” in local numbers, indicating the surge of the virus. Just yesterday, Mayor Demings said the Orlando area was in COVID “crisis mode.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the level of community transmission in Orange County, Florida is high.
To turn things around locally, Mayor Demings says it begins with increasing vaccination rates and wearing of facial coverings, or masks, when indoors. Orange County is urging residents and visitors who are vaccinated or unvaccinated to wear masks indoors with others. This guidance is being extended to Universal Orlando Resort and other tourism interests as well, however, it remains a recommendation not a mandate at this time. All Orange County employees must wear masks indoors at county facilities moving forward.
Mayor Demings issued an internal order for Orange County employees to be fully vaccinated by the end of September, following Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for his employees. Mayor Demings said if employees do not have a lawful exemption, they will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Employees will have an August 31st deadline to get their first shot, and must receive their second shot by end of September. Unionized employees will have a timeline for vaccination negotiated, but all non-union employees must be vaccinated according to the Mayor’s schedule to avoid termination.
Governor Ron DeSantis may strike down Mayor Demings executive order or any future attempt at a mask or vaccine mandates. For now, the Governor’s office acknowledges the action as long as the mayor remains within his authority, but they are watching closely. “In short, the Mayor is within his right to make that declaration, but it does not give him the authority to impose penalties on the public for noncompliance with his recommendations,” Governor DeSantis’ office said in an initial response to West Orlando News. “It appears that he acknowledged the limitations on local authorities and the rights of his constituents to make their own informed decisions.” That last part is not clear with the threat of termination without proof of vaccination for county employees, among other Demings proposals.
Pressed on firing employees by media on hand, Mayor Demings said he “looks at progressive discipline.” He would not stand firm that he will fire employees immediately for not being vaccinated, but he has still issued his internal order. It will be interesting to see how Orange County reacts to mandatory vaccinations and face masks.
Mayor Demings stressed that all residents, businesses and visitors should follow CDC guidance to prevent another local shutdown. He mentioned the Orange County Convention Center just had a cancellation, which will lead to a $12-15 million dollar economic loss. Orange County will be reconvening the COVID-19 economic task force on Monday at 1pm to coordinate closely with business and tourism interests.
“Orange County is being proactive in lowering the spread of the virus,” Mayor Demings said. He added he is “pleading” that businesses mandate employee vaccinations.
Saying the goal is to keep businesses and the theme parks open, the Mayor said if members of community and our visitors follows these steps, we can stem the surge in a few weeks. To see the Mayor’s full press conference, click here. The local state of emergency order for Orange County can be viewed here.