ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — At almost every news conference Mayor Jerry Demings takes a moment to pause, and send a message to people who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19.
“A lot of deaths – 300-plus here in our community,” he said. “Didn’t think that was going to be the reality for us.”
He remembers the day in early March when he found out Orange County had its first COVID-19 case.
“I had no idea that that one case would result in over 36,000 cases that we have today,” he said.
But even with that, Demings said if you compare Orlando with other metropolitan areas in America, “we have fared better than many.”
There are several reasons for that, Demings said, but the theme parks closing down was a pivotal point.
“I believed that it assisted early on in stopping the spread of the virus,” he said.
That, in addition to local curfews and lockdowns from March to May.
“We were able to drastically slow the spread of the virus and contain it within our community,” Demings said.
But then, the stay-at-home orders were lifted and people celebrated Memorial Day and bars opened back up. And then, Demings said, “the numbers took off.”
So Demings and his team issued a mask mandate, sent strike teams into businesses to make sure owners were complying with county COVID-19 rules.
“I think perhaps the thing that was most stressful was the uncertainty Of how rapid the virus would fit within our community, the uncertainty of whether or not the protocols that we were putting in place will work,” Demings said.
And analyzing the numbers now, he said he knows they did.
“We’re back to where we were pre-Memorial Day weekend,” he said. “So we’re in a better place than we were eight weeks ago or 12 weeks ago.”
Looking back at the past six months, Demings said he’s learned a lot, but there are things he’d go back and change about the COVID-19 response.
“I think that those of us who serve at the local government level needed more authority,” he said. “As we went forward, the governor was willing to allow local governments to have more decision making authority, and I believe that had he done that perhaps the entire state of Florida will be even in a better place than we are today.”
So what’s next?
“We don’t want a third wave,” Demings said. “I’m very optimistic that in 2021, we will return to some pre-COVID levels of economic activity within our community.”
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