Orange County may soon reduce some COVID-19 restrictions

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The home of Orlando, Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World is making plans for reducing some COVID-19 restrictions now that more than a fourth of its residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

The eagerness of Orange County officials to prepare for an end to the pandemic is being matched by many authorities around the country, even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that it’s too soon to relax restrictions, given troubling indicators of another wave of infection.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the plan may be announced this week and could reduce occupancy restrictions on some businesses and loosen social distancing and mask requirements, but won’t wipe out his executive order requiring masks in public, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

“That doesn’t mean that nobody will be requested or required to wear facial coverings,” Demings said. “I think we’re a few months away from that.”

Demings said the plan is being crafted with advice from local epidemiologists, the CDC and public health data on vaccination and infection rates.

However, the CDC data for Orange County show that over the last 7 days, new cases have increased by 14% and deaths jumped by 44%. The testing-positivity rate rose slightly to 6.7%, even as fewer people got tested, with testing volume dropping by 7.5%.

Demings said the plan would be implemented in phases and could be based on a businesses’ indoor and outdoor capacity.

“We knew that we would not be in this phase forever … so I believe when we look at those who are perhaps eating in restaurants, there are some modifications I think that can be made there,” Demings told news outlets.

In June, the mayor issued an executive order requiring face masks as infections soared in central Florida, even as Gov. Ron DeSantis opted against a statewide mask order.

In Orange County, more than half of residents 40 years or older have received at least one shot of the vaccine, while overall, about 27% of the county population has received at least one shot, Demings said.

Many experts say 70% or more of the population needs to be vaccinated or previously infected to achieve the herd immunity that would protect other vulnerable people.

Previously Demings had said he planned to keep the mandate in place until at least half the county was vaccinated.

On Wednesday, the county planned to announce a public-private partnership targeting vaccine hesitancy, Demings said.

Statewide, nearly 7.3 million people had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, the state’s health department said. Of those, 4.4 million are fully vaccinated.