Orange County health department to receive $32 million from feds to continue fighting COVID-19

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With COVID-19 infections falling and vaccinations rising, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he was optimistic Wednesday about the coronavirus pandemic ending soon in Central Florida while meeting with reporters for the first time in two weeks.

For the 11th consecutive day, the county’s rolling, 14-day rate of positive tests for COVID-19 infections was under 5% on Wednesday, a figure suggesting the community had the virus under control. The rate was 4.5%, the mayor said, citing state data.

“We are beginning to see light at the end of this dark tunnel that we have been in for the past year,” he said.

But Raul Pino, state health officer in Orange County, said he still was worried about the vulnerability of children, especially since there is no vaccine approved yet for children under age 12.

Pino announced the health department in Orange will receive $32 million in federal funds to continue fighting the virus.

He said the agency is drafting a strategy for the money and it could include programs to protect kids from COVID-19.

He urged youths ages 12 to 18 to get inoculated.

“They should get vaccinated because it’s going to help their peers and their community,” Pino said.

He said people ages 16 to 34 are the segment of the county population with the highest number of new infections now. About 78% of residents age 65 and and older are fully vaccinated. That group was prioritized for vaccines in December.

County officials tweeted Thursday that Barnett Park had reached capacity for its COVID-19 testing operation before 5 p.m..

Pino said large test sites at the Orange County Convention Center and Orange County recreation centers have closed, leaving Barnett Park in the Pine Hills area as the best remaining option. He said residents can also get vaccinated at the park.

The park allows people who seek a test suspecting they were exposed to also get a shot if they haven’t been vaccinated.

About 55% of county residents age 16 and older have received at least one shot of vaccine, besting the national rate of 52 percent.

The #IGotMyShot mobile vaccination trailer will visit two Orlando sites later this week. It will set up Friday at Se7enBites restaurant, 617 Primrose Dr., Orlando, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then on Saturday, it will visit Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave., Orlando, from 9 a.m to 2 p.m. Appointments aren’t necessary but vaccine supply is limited.

Demings said he still hoped the county gets 70% of its population 16 and older vaccinated by Independence Day.

He said theme parks are drawing larger crowds and the Convention Center is ramping back up.

“With all these people coming in from other places, it is still highly recommended our residents get inoculated,” he said.

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