Officials said Monday there are signs that the spread of the coronavirus is beginning to slow in Orange County as the percent of positive tests is on the decline, but a record number of people remain hospitalized with COVID-19, including the most ever in ICU.
About 113 intensive care unit hospital beds in the county are filled with patients stricken by the virus and Dr. Raul Pino suggested that could mean an additional 50 deaths based on data about how ICU patients fare over time.
“It goes pretty systematic,” said Pino, the state health officer in Orange County.
First comes an increase in new coronavirus cases followed by a rise in emergency room visits and the number of people hospitalized and, eventually, more deaths. Those upward trends start with a cavalier approach toward face masks and other safety measures, he said.
On the bright side, county testing data released Monday by state health officials showed just 340 new virus cases from 4,269 tests, a positivity rate of about 7.4%, the lowest rate and the fewest new cases in Orange County in at least the past 14 days.
Earlier in the day, a panel of advisors for Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings chose not to recommend imposing fines or other penalties for people and businesses that continue ignore his mandate to wear face masks to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The group instead recommended that county staff keep its focus on educating businesses about safety guidelines.
The panel talked a week ago about possibly issuing civil citations with penalties up to $500 to compel compliance as deaths from COVID-19 topped 100 and the county’s positivity rate remained above the 10% mark for a sixth straight week.
But no one mentioned fines Monday.
The panel did not believe that adding penalties was “the right feel” at this time, the mayor said.
Demings said he saw more compliance this weekend with his face mask order, which does not spell out penalties.
“I can tell you that every business that I went into thought I was there to do compliance. As a former law enforcement officer, I know what that looks like,” said the mayor, who formerly served as Orange County’s sheriff and Orlando’s police chief.
He said he was encouraged to see more businesses doing their part to stop the spread of the virus.
So-called “strike teams” made up of code enforcement officers, health officials and firefighters will visit businesses to see if they are following the rules. Demings said he will not hesitate to add penalties to his executive order if non-compliance puts the community at risk.
The county has so far relied on a campaign to spread the word about wearing face masks and keeping social distance.
The effort has used TV, radio, newspapers, 17 digital billboards and soon the side of a Lynx bus.
A social media push with #DoYourPartORL also has made millions of impressions, according to a staff presentation.
But one of the mayor’s economic recovery panelists, Evelyn Cardenas, CEO of the Central Florida Auto Dealers Association, proposed another option to coax businesses into compliance - a Broward County government site which posts all COVID-19 complaints about businesses that don’t follow the rules.
“I know that businesses probably don’t appreciate that,” she said.
“But, everybody’s trying to figure out how we deal with this virus and keep everybody healthy and safe.”
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