ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings looked to the future in his State of the County address Friday morning as the county sees lower rates of COVID-19 transmission and more vaccinations.
The mayor spoke at the Orange County Convention Center to a crowd of people, a major change compared to his last address that was virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. Demings reflected on the last year, reiterating the county has seen “triumph over defeat” as many industries continue to rebound.
“The past year has been difficult for all of us due to a once in a century pandemic. We have experienced loss, we have faced unforeseen challenges and we have tested the limits of our frontline healthcare workers, emergency first responders and essential workers,” he said.
The mayor said the county would move into phase 3 of the approach to lift COVID-19 mask mandates Saturday as the county enters the 14th day of seeing a positivity rate at or below 5%. However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently eliminated COVID mandates across the state, including local restrictions.
This time last year, Disney World was closed in an effort to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, shutting down for “the longest period of time in their history.” Theme parks in the county, including Disney World and Universal Orlando, had to layoff employees as the industry faced impacts from the virus. Now, the mayor highlighted these parks are returning to normal, seeing high numbers over the Memorial Day weekend and anticipating more job opportunities with expansions.
Demings said the county is anticipating more than 14,000 permanent jobs with Universal Orlando’s Epic Universe now that the work picked back up in March after it was halted in July 2020 due to the pandemic. Disney World is opening new restaurants and hotels this year and next, along with a new rollercoaster opening up at SeaWorld Orlando.
“These theme park expansions will deliver a new experience for visitors and will provide a huge boost to our local economy,” he said.
The mayor recounted the county’s efforts to keep businesses afloat by using federal Cares Act funding to provide financial assistance to small and home-based businesses, households and landlords. He also said the funding allowed the county to provide emergency food assistance as many residents struggled, especially at the start of the pandemic. Demings also highlighted the effort to keep supporting the performing arts community and funding venues to keep the industry going until they could reopen once again.
“The heavy clouds of COVID-19 that hung over our region are dissipating and our economy is growing again. By mid-summer, I believe, we will be over the acute phase of the virus and our economic engines will be at full throttle,” he said.
The county has seen new or expanded businesses, including White Castle, that have helped boost the local economy. The mayor said the county is seeking to diversify the local economy and help create jobs through the $2 million stimulus that was approved by county commissioners.
The county is also preparing to accommodate for nearly 2 million residents anticipated in 2050 through a “multi-phased” approach that would preserve the natural environment and move toward cleaner energy. The county is working to continue moving forward following last year’s call for social reform with the death of George Floyd. Now, Demings said the county continues to vaccinate its residents by bringing doses to the community.
“With the rapid deployment of testing and distribution of the vaccine throughout the county and speedy distribution of assistance to our residents most impacted, we are paving a path for improvement in our economy,” Demings said.
This State of County address comes as Florida is seeing its lowest COVID-19 hospitalizations in over one year and as Orange County has a positivity rate at or below 5% in nearly the last two weeks. Last year, the mayor’s address came at the height of the pandemic where he announced a new regional campaign to encourage businesses and residents to use COVID-19 safety guidelines.
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