Orange County could soon relax some mask, social distancing requirements, Mayor Jerry Demings says

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Stephen Hudak and Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel
·3 min read
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Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said his administration and local health officials have begun devising a plan to reduce some COVID-19 restrictions on wearing facial coverings, as more than 26% of county residents have received at least one shot of vaccine.

The plan, which could be announced this week, wouldn’t wipe out his executive order requiring facial coverings to be worn in public but could reduce occupancy restrictions on some businesses, loosen social distancing requirements and some masking requirements.

“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 area epidemiologists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and also public health data on vaccinations and infection rates.

He specifically said restaurants could be beneficiaries of the plan.

“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 said.

He didn’t offer further specifics, except that it would be in phases and could be based on a businesses’ indoor and outdoor capacity.

County residents and visitors have been under Demings’ executive order requiring facial coverings since June, as infections climbed toward what were then record highs soon after.

Mask mandates in Florida have been a hot-button political issue, with numerous local officials from pockets up and down the state calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide mask order, but the governor opted against it.

Demings said more than half of county residents 40 years or older have received at least one shot of the vaccine, while 26.8% of the entire county population has received at least one shot. He’s previously said he planned to keep the mandate in place until at least half of county residents are vaccinated.

In hopes to boost those rates, Demings said the county would be rolling out a public-private partnership on Wednesday targeting vaccine hesitancy.

Monday marked the first day of Orange County’s mobile vaccine team at Barber Park in the Conway area, where all 800 appointments for each day this week are booked. But the county is also offering up to 200 vaccines for people without an appointment between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. through Friday.

Health officials also received reports of four additional variant cases, including one case of the U.K. variant, one of the California variant and two cases of the variant first discovered in Brazil.

Demings said his office was told by state officials that the vaccination site at Valencia College’s west campus off Kirkman Road had short wait times Monday, and has plenty of capacity for Johnson & Johnson shots. The site can serve about 3,000 people per day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Pop-up sites are also available Thursday at Bravo Supermarket at 13024 Narcoossee Road in Lake Nona and Friday at 999 N. Semoran Blvd. The supermarket doesn’t require appointments and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Johnson & Johnson vaccines are also available on Saturday and Sunday at the Mexican Consulate at 2550 Technology Drive starting at 9 a.m.

rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com, shudak@orlandosentinel.com