ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County soon could start imposing penalties on businesses that have remained “bad actors” when it comes to following general guidance on measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said late Monday.

What You Need To Know

  • Orange County mayor: Order “likely” to OK penalties against noncompliant businesses 

  • Mayor Jerry Demings says he aims to target “habitual violators of the guidance”

  • County strike teams recently visited 11 bars in one night and found none in compliance

  • Orlando Mayor Dyer: “Be patriots … think about your responsibility to protect others”

Demings said he has directed the county’s legal team to draft an executive order that “will likely give me the authority to institute some form of penalties.” The order “more than likely” will come by the end of the week, he said.

“This would apply to businesses that are habitual violators of the guidance,” the mayor added.

Demings made his comments at a coronavirus briefing that he conducts regularly with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

Neither Demings nor Dyer specified what action they might take or penalties they could impose.

Gov. Ron DeSantis in late September removed restrictions on restaurants, pubs, and bars as part of a Phase 3 reopening of Florida. The governor’s order superseded any local orders and suspended penalties for refusal to wear a mask.

“The governor took a lot of our enforcement capability away,” Dyer said Monday.

Demings said in September that the county’s mask mandate would remain in place, despite the governor’s order, and that a provision in the order would allow local governments to restrict capacity in bars and restaurants to less than 100%. A local government would have to quantify the economic impact on the business and why the action was necessary for public health, he said.

Demings said Monday: “For weeks now ... I’ve asked for voluntary compliance” from businesses on coronavirus safety measures. “And if we have a few bad actors, that’s who we’ll be targeting. It won’t be the businesses who have been cooperating or complying. It will be the bad actors.”

Two weeks ago, so-called strike teams in Orange County visited 11 bars in one night and found none in compliance with coronavirus safety measures. County leaders created the strike teams to randomly visit county businesses, including those inside municipalities, to ensure that the businesses practice social distancing and follow the county's mask-wearing mandate, among other safety steps.

The strike teams have visited about 5,400 businesses since their July launch, Demings said. The mayor mentioned a 97% compliance rate, plus an 81% compliance rate for businesses that have been inspected again.

“We still do have the ability to enact some penalties directly on businesses,” Orlando Mayor Dyer said. “One of the things I’ve had people say to me is that, ‘We’re pleased in Orange County that you guys have continued to encourage us to do the responsible thing rather than make us have to do the responsible thing.’”

He added: “So, again, I would plead with the bar owners and restaurant owners and the patrons of those facilities to be patriots and to think about your responsibility to protect others.”