ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — For now, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is following state law and asking businesses to help keep COVID-19 in check.
He’s asking them to mandate vaccinations for their employees and asking them to mandate masks inside their locations.
Asking – not requiring.
While Demings has control over his own employees and is requiring his staff to get their shots, he’s legally blocked from going as far as he wants, due to a May 2021 order from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The order eliminated all local restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing the fact that everyone has the opportunity to get vaccinated.
With approximately half of the area’s citizens fully vaccinated nearly three months after that order and a new delta variant threatening to overwhelm hospitals with those who choose to go without science’s best chance at protection, Demings is left to plead.
“We want our residents, businesses and visitors to follow the updated CDC guidelines to make sure there won’t be another shutdown like we experienced last year,” he said, adding that his county was in crisis mode.
While more masks could be seen on the streets of downtown and nearby Winter Park, most business owners said they planned to continue with the old Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance: masks for the unvaccinated; freedom for everyone else.
“It would be sad to like backtrack, to having to wear the mask again,” Mary Thompson, a vaccinated customer walking down Park Avenue, said.
County officials said the begging may not go on forever, especially if things continue to spiral out of control.
According to a county attorney, officials planned to gather evidence that the county was in a dire situation and that precautions – like mask mandates – work.
The attorney said officials believe a strong enough case would let them get around DeSantis’ blockade, a move that would almost guarantee a showdown with Tallahassee.
“It is not the role of any level of government – local, state or federal – to micromanage people’s lives or fine them for declining to wear a face covering,” a spokesman for the governor said.
However, the mayor said previous voluntary measures saw a 95% compliance rate from businesses, giving hope to the idea that any last resort remains hypothetical.
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