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
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.
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.