Orange County officials considering easing coronavirus restrictions, Mayor Demings says

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County’s guidelines for wearing masks and maintaining social distancing could be updated within the week, Mayor Jerry Demings says.

Demings says he and his staff are researching ways to safely relax some coronavirus restrictions. However, he says there are certain statistical milestones he’d like the county to reach before any changes are made.

READ: Orange County officials, doctors host town hall on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

The mayor turned to researchers from the University of Central Florida for guidance in easing the restrictions.

The team at UCF has already backed one study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says students in classrooms can stand 3 feet apart with masks instead of 6 feet.

In addition to social distancing, they’ve also been studying the benefits of ventilation and wearing masks.

UCF’s Michael Kinzel and Kareem Ahmed studied both outdoor and indoor settings to figure out how the different measures actually tie to safety in different places.

“You actually have human self-participants as part of the study,” Ahmed says. “So you’re actually taking it over a population of different personnel.”

The team’s studies are helping Mayor Demings and his team decide how to move forward.

READ: FEMA vaccine sites in Florida resume use of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

“As we get vaccinated, we have to relax things,” Kinzel says.  “What’s the next practical one without endangering the public?”

Previous research shows masks stop COVID-19 spread better than social distancing, so the six-feet requirement could be reduced to three as the first restriction to be relaxed.

Demings says the mask mandate will most likely be relaxed once 50 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated. Currently, that number sits at just 34 percent.

Demings says they plan to make some decisions soon.

“I’m optimistic that this week we will come out with some updated guidelines for our community,” Demings says.

Seminole County leaders are set to vote on whether to relax their masks and social distancing measures in a commission meeting Tuesday.

READ: Orange County COVID-19 vaccine supply outpacing demand

In Osceola County, officials say they haven’t had any discussions about easing restrictions.

Just last week, the city of  Cocoa extended its mask mandate. It won’t come up for discussion again there until sometime in July.