In an attempt to stem the tide of COVID-19,”an unprecedented virus” in Osceola County, its Executive Policy Board has officially declared a “Stay at Home” order that goes into effect Thursday night at 11 p.m. and will be in effect for two weeks, until 11 p.m. April 9.

The order means non-essential businesses, such as entertainment centers, most clothing stores, bowling alleys, shopping malls and beauty parlors must close. In short, Osceola County residents are ordered to limit travel to essential trips only and to stay at home as much as possible.

Grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, big-box stores and businesses that provide medical products or services supporting work-from-home operations can remain open, among others. An entire list of what’s permitted to open can be found here.

The order is much the same as one Orange County put in place on Tuesday that also goes into effect Thursday night.

The intent is simple: stop the spread of this potentially-deadly virus by having residents stay at home as much as possible unless they have to carry out essential tasks: buying groceries or getting take-out food from a restaurant, going to medical appointments, taking care of a sick relative, or getting out for outdoor recreation like walking the dog while practicing social distancing measures.

Osceola County Commission Chair Viviana Janer called the order “the most effective means to combat the spread of the virus, one that was not made lightly.”

“We know it will bring economical and emotional impacts,” she said. “We’ve never faced a challenge like this before, but we know we can do this, Osceola County. This two-week period will make a difference in the spread of the virus. Everything is being done to stop the spread. Stay connected during this time.”

Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez is also a small business owner.

“I understand the uncertainty. We weighed other options. By taking early action like those implemented today, we can stop or slow down COVID-19 before reaching widespread neighborhood transmission,” he said.

St. Cloud Mayor Nathan Blackwell said he can also gauge local concern in his church congregation, which should be staying home the next two weekends.

“I had reservations as well, but I stand behind our government officials. Many of you are dealing with fear and anxiety, you can sense it on people’s faces, I know people are struggling to deal with new challenges every day, and this is one more,” he said. “You are making a difference, and this will not last forever.”

Those who violate the order, and the 11 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew, could be arrested on a second-degree misdemeanor and be subject to a $500 fine.

“This order allows law enforcement to disperse groups of 10 or more back to where they can be safe,” Sheriff Russ Gibson said.