As Orange County COVID-19 numbers improve, end of state of emergency is near

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The Orange County State of Emergency is likely in its final days, Mayor Jerry Demings said Thursday, citing much-improved virus metrics since the summer surge of the delta variant.

In a more immediate sign of the progress, local health officials expect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to downgrade Orange County from “red” on its scale measuring virus transmission to “orange.” Already, Florida is one of five states not at the most severe level.

The scale measures transmission by how many new infections are detected per 100,000 people in a county, in addition to the percentage of positive tests. The county, which has a seven-day average of 75.7 new cases per 100,000 people, was at the highest level on the scale for more than two months, and now is deemed to have “substantial transmission.”

Its worst measure was in mid-August when the seven-day average was 641 cases per 100,000 people.

Before removing the state of emergency, Demings has said he was waiting for the positivity rate to dip below 5% — and stay there. Over the past two weeks, the rate is 5.37%, down from more than 20% at times during the surge, Demings said.

“I feel pretty good about where we are,” he said. “I hope to get to the point soon where we are no longer under a State of Emergency.”

He hinted an announcement could come next week.

Beyond the positivity rate, Demings said 209 new infections were reported yesterday among county residents, a far lower daily total than prior weeks and months.

Even still, the death toll continues to climb, continuing the aftereffects of the surge. Since Monday, 36 more county residents were reported dead infected with COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 2,126.

So far, 74% of eligible county residents have had at least one shot of vaccine.

While optimistic, Demings said he remains worried for people who catch the virus.

“I still worry about additional individuals who will contract the disease, ultimately get sick and die,” Demings said. “We still have to be vigilant in that regard.”

Alvina Chu, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said the improving numbers aren’t likely to eradicate the virus, but because of high vaccination rates and natural immunity unvaccinated people have after recovering from infections, the county is in a strong position heading into the upcoming holiday season.

“COVID will likely be with us in the world for quite a while,” she said. “So, for the upcoming holidays, we’re optimistic we hopefully won’t see a surge like we saw over the summer.”

shudak@orlandosentinel.com, rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com

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