Data mea­sur­ing in­fec­tion rates and emer­gency room visits for COVID-19 is trending in the right di­rec­tion, med­i­cal ex­perts say. “All the cur­rent data in­di­cates we’re in good shape,” Dr. Raul Pino said.

Data sug­gests Orange County in ‘good shape’ as busi­nesses re­open

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Stephen Hu­dak, Ryan Gille­spie and Lisa Maria Garza

Health data mea­sur­ing coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion rates and emer­gency room visits for COVID-19 symp­toms is trending in the right di­rec­tion, med­i­cal ex­perts said Mon­day.

“All the cur­rent data in­di­cates we’re in good shape,” said Dr. Raul Pino, di­rec­tor of the state Health Depart­ment in Orange County.

The county has con­ducted more than 29,000 virus tests and the num­ber yield­ing pos­i­tive re­sults con­tin­ues to de­cline, with few than 5% of the tests com­ing back as pos­i­tive for the virus. And 93% of lo­cal cases are con­sid­ered “re­cov­ered,” Pino said.

For the first time since early Fe­bru­ary, the num­ber of peo­ple ad­mit­ted to a hos­pi­tal in Orange County af­ter an emer­gency room visit be­cause of cough, fever or short­ness of breath, all fre­quent symp­toms of the virus, dropped to nearly zero, Pino said. The weekly tally of patients vis­it­ing emer­gency rooms with in­fluenza-like ill­ness also has fallen to fewer than 100, down from 500 patients six weeks ago.

Over­all, the county has seen 35 deaths and 1,438 con­firmed cases of the virus through­out the pan­demic, of­fi­cials said. The lat­est death re­vealed by Pino on Mon­day was an 83-year-old woman who

did not show symp­toms of the virus be­fore she died. Pino said he could not pro­vide any more details about her death.

But he noted that about 10% of the peo­ple in Orange who have tested pos­i­tive for the virus have not shown symp­toms, though they can still spread the ill­ness to oth­ers.

“We think … asymp­to­matic peo­ple are play­ing an im­por­tant role in the trans­mis­sion of the pan­demic,” Pino said. “If you don’t feel sick you nor­mally will not stay home, you will not re­frain from ac­tiv­i­ties and you will be in con­tact and go­ing out and about.”

Mon­day marked the first day of Gov. Ron DeSan­tis’ plan to re­open Florida. Restau­rants and stores were al­lowed to open at 25% ca­pac­ity inside their din­ing rooms.

In Or­lando, Mayor Buddy Dyer on Mon­day brought for­ward a pack­age of changes to city rules de­signed to al­low those restau­rants and re­tail busi­nesses to serve more cus­tomers outdoors, where the gov­er­nor’s or­der doesn’t re­strict ca­pac­ity.

Those busi­nesses be able to ex­pand res­tau­rant seating and re­tail of­fer­ings into their pri­vate­ly­owned park­ing lots, using tents as large as 12 feet by 12 feet, as well as ban­ners and A-frame signs.

The city coun­cil on May 11 will con­sider fur­ther changes: al­low­ing res­tau­rant seating and mer­chan­dise on city side­walks in the pub­lic right-of-way, as well as waiv­ing the need to ob­tain per­mits or pay fees usu­ally re­quired for these pro­grams.

The coun­cil will also vote on waiv­ing down­town park­ing fees for both on-street and garage park­ing. If ap­proved, busi­nesses would be able to print park­ing val­i­da­tion tick­ets, and through the ParkMo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion, used to pay for me­tered spots, cus­tomers would be given two hours free.

“I’m in­cred­i­bly proud that to­gether we were able to con­trol the spread of this virus and now be­gin to re­open our econ­omy re­spon­si­bly and move into a new phase of re­cov­ery for our busi­nesses,” Dyer said. “But as we move into this new phase we must re­main vig­i­lant. Just be­cause you can leave home, doesn’t mean you have to.”

All of these pro­grams are in ef­fect un­til Septem­ber 1, Dyer said.

It’s un­clear when DeSan­tis will al­low Florida busi­nesses to move to the next phase, adding ca­pac­ity and bring­ing more busi­nesses back from the shut­down.

In a Mon­day morn­ing Orange reopen­ing task force meet­ing, Chuck Whit­tall, co-chair of the group ap­pointed by Mayor Jerry Dem­ings, asked Pino if the promis­ing trends might be a re­sult of the virus run­ning its course as an or­di­nary flu season does.

“No,” Pino said. “We have in­ter­rupted the trans­mis­sion. You have seen the con­tain­ment of the pan­demic…”

He said so­cial-dis­tanc­ing im­peded the virus’ abil­ity to in­fect large num­bers of peo­ple. But now, as more peo­ple start to move about and in­ter­act with each other, there could be an­other spike in cases so fre­quent hand-wash­ing, face cov­er­ings and so­cial dis­tanc­ing re­main cru­cial.

John Henry, owner of J Henry’s Bar­ber Shop on Church Street, said he got “good vibes” from DeSan­tis’ Satur­day visit to Or­lando.

Dem­ings said he hoped DeSan­tis would render a de­ci­sion in reopen­ing salons and bar­ber­shops by the end of the week.

The gov­er­nor spent about an hour at OhSoooJazz­y Hair Sa­lon on Old Win­ter Gar­den Road, hear­ing from a group of busi­ness own­ers, in­clud­ing Henry.

The visit was prompted by letters sent Fri­day by Dem­ings and Semi­nole County Chair­man Jay Zem­bower.

In a separate letter, Zem­bower wrote to DeSan­tis and Florida Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Nikki Fried en­cour­ag­ing the reopen­ing of lo­cal state forests such as Lit­tle Big Econ State For­est and Charles H. Bron­son State For­est.

About 80 state parks par­tially opened Mon­day but sev­eral ma­jor Cen­tral Florida lo­ca­tions weren’t on the ini­tial list. State of­fi­cials said those sites were cho­sen based on how easy so­cial dis­tanc­ing could be main­tained.

“We have a lot of eques­tri­ans through­out Semi­nole County, Orange County and the re­gion that of­ten use a lot of these state forests to go out and do their trail rid­ing but they can’t get ac­cess to it,” Zem­bower said

Whit­tall also pressed theme park rep­re­sen­ta­tives for a hint as to when they might re­open. He noted Dis­ney’s web site is book­ing ho­tel rooms for June.

But Thomas Ma­zloum, a task force mem­ber and ex­ec­u­tive with Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort, said Dis­ney has not set a reopen­ing date.

“At this point, we sim­ply have closed un­til fur­ther no­tice,” he said.

Richard Costales, vice pres­i­dent of re­sort op­er­a­tions for Univer­sal, said the park pre­vi­ously an­nounced it would be closed at least through the end of May.

He said com­pany of­fi­cials wouldn’t make any de­ci­sion on reopen­ing un­til they hear rec­om­men­da­tions from health and govern­ment leaders.

“We like­wise are kind of in limbo right now,” Costales said.

RI­CARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Many shops and restau­rants along Win­ter Park’s prom­i­nent stretches of Park Av­enue and Han­ni­bal Square re­cently closed due to Orange County’s stay-at-home or­der pre­pared in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Phase 1 busi­ness re­open­ings statewide, which started Mon­day.

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