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Osceola County Grapples With Pandemic Impacts

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Osceola County School Board member Kelvin Soto (l) and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez joined Intersection to talk about the impact of the pandemic on Osceola County.

Unemployment in Osceola County skyrocketed after the pandemic hit. According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the unemployment rate last month was 22.9%. 

As the pandemic continues, Osceola County has implemented tough measures to get people to adhere to mask wearing and social distancing orders- including penalties for people who don’t follow the guidelines. 

And like other counties statewide- schools are preparing to reopen against this backdrop of unemployment and surging coronavirus cases. 

Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez and Osceola County School Board Member Kelvin Soto joined Intersection to talk about how the county is coping. 

Soto said the school district is used to dealing with emergencies like hurricanes, and the board is working to get the reopening plan right.

“People are relying on us to really make decisions based on science,” he said.

“If what we say and what we’re doing doesn’t resonate, [if there’s] cognitive dissonance, they’re not going to be happy. They’re not going to feel safe in returning to school. So I think we have some more work to do.”

Soto said the spike in cases in the last few months has made it difficult to plan for reopening.

“We are trying to make a back to school plan where there is a zero risk for everybody involved, the economy does not really allow for that. Actually, our social conditions do not allow for that.”

Mayor Alvarez said he’s worried about the health of city residents and the economic impact of the pandemic.

“We’re also concerned that if we continue with the numbers as they’re going, in Florida we could probably potentially see another shutdown and if that was to happen I don’t think that majority of our small businesses will be able to survive another shut down,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez has been an advocate for the county’s mask mandate. He said there’s been some push back from residents.

“I have heard more positive from the community than negative. Usually the positive are very quiet, but they let everyone know what they are in need on it. One of the things they needed is, they said please [make] these things mandatory to protect ourselves.”

The county voted this week to impose penalties for people who do not adhere to the mask mandate, with a warning on the first offence followed by fines of $25 and $50 for subsequent infractions.

“COVID-19, at the end of the day, is going to teach us a lot of lessons,” said Alvarez.

One of those lessons is that the economy needs to diversify.

“We cannot continue to just depend on the hospitality industry to survive.”



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About Matthew Peddie

Matt Peddie