Alachua County decided on May 1st that it will follow some of the governor’s Phase 1 opening plans exactly as presented in an executive order set to go in effect on May 4th, and to add to others.
After five hours of discussing, retail, restaurants, OSHA guidelines, face coverings, ways to protect employers and employees and the public, the Board of County Commissioners came to four agreements.
They opted to follow the governor’s order regarding restaurants without any adjustments after hearing from restaurant owners, customers and wait staff. As it stands,the order allows restaurants to open indoor and outdoor dining areas as long as indoor seating never has groups of more than 10 people, operates at 25 percent capacity and that outdoor seating allows for 6-foot distancing.
The only modification to the governor’s order regarding retail is the addition of a County standard of one customer per 500 square feet instead of the previous one customer for every 750 square feet. The BOCC said the 25 percent capacity ratio for local stores would mean too many customers sharing store space.
The Board chose to adopt the Miami-Dade face covering emergency order 20-20 and added that “Masks shall not be required by customers in restaurants while dining.”
The order states that “persons working in or visiting grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, construction sites, public transit vehicles, vehicles for hire, and locations where social distancing measures are not possible shall wear facial coverings as defined by the CDC.”
It also outlines that a mask “shall not be required for children under two years old or persons who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition.”
The Board also added to the order that “to the extent there is a governing body or licensing group that imposes more stringent guidelines than OSHA, then the business shall follow those guidelines.”
And the Board authorized the Chair to prepare a letter to the governor “requesting the permitting of manufacturing or other businesses that prove to the local jurisdiction that they qualify as low risk under the OSHA regulation, and ask the governor to permit the opening of passive parks and wildlife sanctuaries.”
The 5-hour-long meeting was followed by 11,000 viewers on Facebook and elicited about 50 calls for public comment. The callers represented business owners, elderly citizens who are considered the most vulnerable to the virus, college students who were watching from hundreds of miles away and anticipating returning to Gainesville from South Florida where the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state have been recorded.
Gainesville Restaurant Owner Satchel Raye called in and asked that the BOCC, “Give business owners the benefit of the doubt.”
A retired ER nurse with underlying health issues encouraged the Board to “Keep your courage,” as they discussed rules stricter than the state order. “Save my life,” she said.
A UF student in South Florida who is ready to return to Gainesville for work, said she is worried that she and other students who were sent home to South Florida will bring COVID-19 back with them.
“I’ve had family members dying from coronavirus,” she said and asked that the BOCC move forward with strict orders as the state continues to open up. “What will be done to protect the citizens?" she asked. "We could be bringing what is down here up there.”
Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler asked that the commission try to find a way to get the governor to allow florists to be open in time for Mother’s Day on May 10th, and Chair Hutchinson closed the meeting by thanking all of the callers who took time to make public comments.