ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings on Wednesday announced a new face-covering executive order that reduces physical-distance requirements from 6 feet to 3 feet in all settings, effective immediately.

What You Need To Know

  • Mayor Jerry Demings announces 3-phase plan regarding masks, social distancing

  • Demings says the plan is in line with CDC, current science

  • Orange County’s mask mandate has been in effect since last June

The next "three weeks or so" could usher in the next phase, which would end the county's outdoor mask mandate, Demings said.

The order spells out three phases, beginning now with phase 1 and concluding when 70% of Orange County’s 16-older residents has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or when the county’s 14-day rolling positivity rate falls to 5% or below.

At that point, Demings said, the county will lift all mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements outlined in previous emergency executive orders.

Demings noted that 43.4% of Orange County residents in that age range had been vaccinated and that the county’s 14-day rolling positive rate stood Tuesday at 8%.

"We are still in the midst of a pandemic," he said at a news conference outside the Orange County Administration Building. "The virus is still spreading in our community. So we, collectively, all of the residents of Orange County, still have this responsibility to help protect ourselves and our entire community."

Demings’ announcement follows guidance from the CDC Tuesday that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely walk, exercise, gather and dine outdoors in small groups, without masks. 

Business-compliance strike teams will continue to visit businesses to ensure that employers and employees comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines, he said.

"We're still requiring employees in these indoor setting to be wearing facial coverings," Demings said.

Meanwhile, the mayor instructed fully vaccinated people to follow CDC guidelines on COVID-19 safety prototcols. Those guidelines permit fully vaccinated people to visit other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or physical distancing, for example.  

He advised such residents, workers and visitors to take precautions including use of facial covering in indoor public settings or when visiting indoors with unvaccinated peopole at risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19. 

Unvaccinated people should continue to wear facial covering within six feet of distancing indoors or outdoors, Demings said.

The county will reach Phase 2 — which will include the lifting of the mask mandate for everybody outdoors — when half of residents age 16-over get at least one COVID-19 shot, Demings said. Early Wednesday, the county stood fewer than seven percentage points from that goal.

"All things considered and if we keep the same (pace) of immunizations, we should be there before three weeks, at the 50%," said Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

The mayor pointed out that because Orange County remains "somewhat open" and represents the heart of a global tourist destination, "these are the things, sensible things, that we have to do to protect ourselves as we continue to move forward."

He called the three phases "sensible and achievable goals we are seeing to ensure that we are making progress. In other words, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

With just over 37% of eligible people vaccinated in Orange County, Dr. Sajid Chaudhary said it will still take a lot of effort to reach that light.

Chaudhary says there’s a lot of work ahead to break down the hesitancy barrier, and reach the 70% vaccination threshold.

“It’s attainable, but it will need a lot of efforts on the part of the county department, health department, health care workers, and maybe media actually,” he said.

At Bithlo park, Chandra Jane Dippolito and her kids took advantage of fresh air, with just enough wind to lift some kites off the ground.

“I’ve got three girls, and we needed to get out the house, because we were going stir crazy," she said. "Needed some outside sun form."

She’s hesitant to get the vaccine right now, but says she’s been cautious throughout the pandemic.

“I just kind of keep my kids in my little section, so at the moment I’m not worried about it,” said Dippolito.

It's that type of hesitancy Chaudhary  said would have to be overcome.

“It’s going to be difficult to reach out to those people and convince them, and make them vaccinated," he said.

Demings said Orange County Public Schools would have follow guidance from Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, among others.

On April 12, Demings announced the county planned to ease its mask and social distancing rules in a phased approach, based on indoor and outdoor capacities of various locations. 

He said the phased approach would take into account the county’s vaccination and infection rates, as well as CDC guidelines.

Demings signed an executive order last June requiring all residents, workers and visitors to wear a mask in public.