Changes to Orange County’s mask mandate: What it means for restaurants & theme parks

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced new changes to the county’s social distancing guidelines and face mask mandate during a news conference Wednesday morning.

The mayor said there will be three phases to the executive order.

Effective immediately, the mayor said social distancing will be reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet in all settings.

READ: Coronavirus: CDC announces updated mask guidance

Fully vaccinated individuals should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest recommendations for wearing facial coverings, the mayor said.

The CDC said fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces outdoors unless they are in a big crowd of strangers at events like concerts, parades or sporting events. Click here to read more about those changes.

The mayor said the county will move to phase two when 50% of the population 16 or older have received their first dose of the vaccine.

READ: Central Florida residents on both sides of new CDC mask guidelines for outdoor activities

The following amendments will happen when the county reaches phase two:

  • Face covering mandate for outdoors lifted for all individuals.
  • Physical distancing of at least 3 feet between groups is encouraged.
  • Facial coverings still required for indoors, except when eating or drinking.

“In order for us to get to the point where we no longer have to wear a facial coverings, it takes all of us working together,” Demings said.

The mayor announced that the county will enter phase three when 70% of the population 16 or older has received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and/or Orange County’s 14-day rolling positivity rate is 5% or below.

Once the county reaches the requirement for phase three, all mandates will be lifted.

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That rate is currently 8%.

Because Orange County health officer Dr. Raul Pino said the county is likely to hover around 6% to 7% for a while, Channel 9 asked if county leaders believe we’ll reach the 70% vaccinated mark first.

“When we reach the 70% is truly unknown,” Demings said. “We cannot say with certainty, because we don’t have a crystal ball to say when we’ll get to that point.”

Channel 9′s Lauren Seabrook asked Demings why he decided to go to 70% to completely drop the masks. In the last few months, the mayor’s been eluding to dropping the mask mandate when at least 50% of Orange County residents are vaccinated.

“We have received an abundance of research and information and coordination and collaboration with our local hospitals, epidemiologists, infectious disease physicians, Dr. Pino and the Department of Health.”

What does this mean for area theme parks?

Pandemic precautions haven’t kept visitors away from Central Florida theme parks, but the changes to Orange County’s guidelines could allow even more inside the gates.

“This allows them, as they manage the lines and other things for those outdoor types of settings and even indoor, they’re able to increase capacity as a result of that,” Demings said.

With so many outdoor spaces at the parks, we wanted to know if the county was allowing maskless visitors.

SEE: Channel 9 gives you a sneak peak of Orlando’s new White Castle restaurant

“The CDC guidelines specifically said that congregated outdoor settings should use mask for vaccinated and unvaccinated people and they surely fall into that category,” Pino said.

Demings said that goes for those serving the public inside restaurants and other businesses, too.

“We are still requiring employees in these indoor settings to be wearing facial coverings,” Demings said.

READ: Holy Land Experience reopens for 2 days, offers free admission

In a prepared statement, Universal Studios said:

“The health and safety of our guests and team members is always our top priority. We appreciate the Mayor’s leadership and will review his plan along with CDC guidelines. We will continue to work with local health officials as we determine how to move forward in a way that is best for our guests, our team members and our business. We will continue to operate under our existing and enhanced health and safety protocols as we conduct our review.”

FunSpot said in their prepared statement:

“We are excited to see the Mayor start opening some of the guidelines to be more user friendly for our guests. As of right now, Fun Spot has no plans to change anything until we get a clear goal from our local government and CDC.”

SeaWorld and Walt Disney World have not responded.

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Q McCray, WFTV.com

Q McCray is an award-winning general assignment reporter.

Katlyn Brieskorn, WFTV.com

Katlyn Brieskorn is a Digital Assignment Editor at WFTV. She joined Channel 9 in July 2019.