Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said county government is putting together a plan to relax its mask mandate by as early as June. Orange County is home to Orlando.
“We are working with the department of health on a plan to phase reducing requirements of wearing facial coverings and social distancing,” Demings said. “We are reviewing how CDC requirements are evolving along with COVID infection data and a plan will be announced soon.”
Demings was not able to give specifics about what the phased approach will look like, but he mentioned possibly looking at COVID vaccination rates as a metric to determine how soon the mandate can end.
“The mask mandate will end, I think, as we get closer to maybe 50% of our overall total population having been vaccinated and dependent upon how soon we get the shots in the arms of people we will make that determination,” Demings said during a news conference. “Suffice it to say I believe that by the time we get to June… perhaps we should be there at that point. We’ll see.”
As of early April, Demings said more than half of Orange County residents over 40 have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. He also said he saw a great turnout at vaccination sites back on Easter Sunday and one of Orange County’s largest sites is completely booked.
Demings also said the county would cease fining businesses for not requiring face coverings for staff and customers once the mandate is lifted.
However, in March Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced he and the Florida clemency board would eliminate fines leveraged against businesses or customers who choose not to comply with COVID-related ordinances. And in September 2020, DeSantis issued an executive order directing municipalities to stop collecting fines and penalties for violating mask policies. Both tactics rendered Orange County’s COVID-related ordinances unenforceable.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry did not reextend his city’s mask mandate last month, as well as Sarasota city commissioners ending their own requirements. Both cities are still allowing businesses to require face coverings, but no penalties can be enforced.
Grant Holcomb is a reporter at the Florida Capital Star and the Star News Network.