Orange County Ends State of Emergency

During this week’s government public health briefing, Mayor Jerry Demings announced the end of Orange County’s state of emergency, which he allowed to expire. This post will cover details, implications for Walt Disney World’s indoor face mask rule, case numbers, positivity data, and more.

Before we get going, a quick housekeeping note. We started doing data-driven weekly reports back in late July with the goal of sharing news that may be relevant to out-of-staters planning or on the fence about a vacation to Walt Disney World. The updates distilled data and information from multiple sources, free of hyperbole, sensationalism, and commentary—just a straightforward report on current circumstances in Central Florida.

For the first month-plus, the reports were objectively bad with the state setting and breaking its own records in daily and weekly cases, along with other grim news. This raised a lot of ire among readers who claimed things weren’t as bad as they seemed and were being exaggerated for the sake of fear-mongering. Since then, the reports have presented more optimistic numbers, as Florida has improved to have the lowest case numbers per capita in the contiguous United States last week. This has upset those of the persuasion that Florida is “cooking the books.”

There have never been credible claims that Florida is over or under-counting its numbers. This has been debunked countless times, and is exhausting. Such a feat would require an unprecedented conspiracy coordinated by thousands of people with different interests and contrary politics. The numbers and data are compiled and reported by individual hospitals, local departments of health, city and county leaders, and more–all of whom would have to be in on the fix to make the state look good/bad.

Of course, that’s not happening. Past waves around the globe–not just in Florida–have borne out that higher highs are followed by lower lows. The trajectory in Florida should be absolutely unsurprising to anyone who looks at data and trends–not just inflammatory rhetoric or nonsense on social media.

Consequently, the weekly reports have been a bit of a headache. More significantly, they’re also becoming less useful to Walt Disney World vacation planners as Florida’s numbers bottom out. Accordingly, we’re going to cease providing weekly updates so long as the situation is stable and remains good. Instead, we’ll share headline news when something significant changes in terms of policy.

If you’d like to continue following the weekly or daily data yourself, here are the sources I use:

These are all great for the unvarnished numbers from which you can glean past and present trajectories, without any sensationalism or spin. If you’d prefer the latter, stick to Facebook memes, I guess.

We will share one positive piece of data from the CDC: Florida’s 7-day moving average now stands at 1,857 and is falling. This is the lowest level since June 26:

Turning to the topic at hand, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings allowed the state of emergency order to expire, citing dramatically declining case and positivity numbers. Orange County’s rolling 14-day positivity rate has been below 5%–the county’s target for relaxed rules–for 18 consecutive days. For the last two weeks, the positivity rate has been 3.5%.

Cases and deaths have likewise plummeted precipitously. Following the two deadliest months of the pandemic, only 27 Orange County residents have died in October, down from 293 in September and 410 in August.

Orange County’s emergency order went into effect on July 28, due to wastewater surveillance of RNA concentrations in water reclamation facilities. This sounded alarms about a projected spike in new cases driven by the delta variant that threatened to overwhelm hospitals.

Around that time, Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health was blunt in his assessment, saying “anyone who is not vaccinated, at the levels of infection that [Orange County] is having should expect to get this infection. You may experience it asymptomatically, but the levels we’re having right now…I don’t think many people could escape this infection if not vaccinated.”

Orange County has been under the local state of emergency for most of the past 19 months. This began last spring and extended until this May, when Demings ended the state of emergency order. That kicked off a couple months of summer normalcy, before things reverted with the arrival of the delta variant.

“Thankfully, due to the high number of vaccinated residents and wearing of masks and other safety measures, our numbers have plummeted,” he said, acknowledging that the last wave made for an extremely challenging time for everyone. “You, our community, have demonstrated how much you care for your families, neighbors and community,” Demings added. “Your selflessness is why Orange County is such a good place to live.”

An immediate rule change for Walt Disney World is highly unlikely. Although Disney reinstated its indoor face mask rule the same day that Orange County issued its state of emergency, the timing was also nearly-simultaneous with new CDC Indoor Mask Guidance that made face masks recommended in Orange County due to rolling positivity and case per 100,000 resident numbers.

Walt Disney World has never provided an underlying rationale for its rule changes, but the prevailing belief is that it’s a combination of guidance from Orange County and the CDC. Demings himself indicated that mask rules for county workers wouldn’t be lifted now–but could be once Orange County hits the CDC’s moderate transmission tier.

With that, let’s turn to the CDC’s Community Transmission Map, which is based on positivity and incidence numbers. As you can see, most of the United States is still in the red tier. The notable exception to that is the South, which saw a significant spike in cases towards the end of summer and is now lower as a result.

Those counties reporting 100 cases or more cases per 100,000 residents, or that have a positivity rate of at least 10%, fall into the high transmission tier. If a county has reported 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period or has a positivity rate of 8% to 10%, it falls into the substantial transmission tier.

The CDC recommends indoor masking for the fully vaccinated only in those two tiers. The criteria for moving down to the moderate level is under 50 total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and under 8% test positivity during the past 7 days. The low tier requires 0-10 cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate under 5%.

Orange County moved down to the substantial (or orange) tier recently, and is poised to move to the moderate (yellow) tier within the next couple of weeks. Orange County’s current case rate is 73.06 per 100,000 residents with a positivity rate of 3.62%.

That positivity rate actually qualifies Orange County for the low tier, which is below the target to drop indoor masking. The case rate now needs to drop by ~24 per 100k, and it has already been dropping by around 20-30% each week. It’s down 22.63% in the last 7 days–in another two weeks, that number should be below 50 if current trends hold.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland reinstated their indoor mask rules with that CDC guidance, so it’s likely Disney won’t lift the rule until the Orange Counties qualify for the moderate level. Previously, Disney changed the rules for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland simultaneously. Anything is possible, but we’d expect the same scenario once again–especially with both coasts pretty comparable right now.

It’s also possible that Orange County hitting the moderate tier won’t trigger an immediate rule change by Disney. With Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon–and the potential for another holiday surge, even if to a lesser degree than last year–the company might wait, wanting to avoid a back-and-forth on rule removals and reinstatements.

However, the next few weeks do present a window of opportunity. With the state of emergency ending, Orange County hitting the moderate tier, and vaccines likely to be approved by the CDC for kids ages 5 to 11 on November 3, there may not be a better time for a policy change before 2022. If Disney is looking for justification to end the indoor mask rule, that trio of events might provide the desired cover.

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