“Here you go, have a face mask”

 City of Gainesville Code Enforcement Officers Samantha Norris and John Gates spent time at the Home Depot store on Tower Road Friday morning greeting mask-wearing customers with a nod or a ‘hello.’

Non mask-wearing customers also got a nod from the officers, and then a box of face masks was extended as an offering. Most people heading into the store were in compliance with the Alachua County emergency order requiring face coverings to be worn inside businesses. 

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It’s a good thing since, little did they know, two hours later the Florida Department of Health was going to announce a record-breaking total of 8,942 COVID-19 cases since yesterday.

A handful of shoppers opted to not wear a face mask claiming a medical excuse, while sometimes groups of three or four 20-something shoppers also said they had medical conditions preempting them from wearing a face covering.

It’s the first week of a crack down on the rule that can result in citations issued by the City of Gainesville or by Alachua County depending on where the violation occurs. The first offense costs $125, second offense $250 and the third offense costs $500 plus a civil court appearance.   

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In a unanimous vote on June 23rd, the Board of County Commissioners passed a motion that includes directing code enforcement officers to concentrate on enforcing the emergency order face mask rule seven days a week and developing a strategy to target areas of concern of non-compliance such as grocery stores.

Rural areas of Alachua County are under the same orders even if they are ignoring it by choice or because they can fall back on their local government claiming “home rule” like the City of Newberry has. A total of 46 cases as of June 28th have been reported in the 32669 zip code area known as “Newberry” on the FDOH Dashboard map which is one of the highest counts of the small incorporated areas of Alachua County.

This week, code enforcement officers were instructed to “Issue a warning that states the violations and penalty for violations.”  Next week might be a different story.

According to City of Gainesville Public Information Officer Rossana Passaniti, the City of Gainesville is in alignment with the County emergency order and the City’s codes enforcement outreach team is working with local businesses to advise customers of the County’s emergency order mandating the use of face coverings. 

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“Our team offers masks to individuals without facial coverings so they will be in compliance with the order,” Passaniti said. “We are actively engaging with businesses that have called the City’s Codes Enforcement department for assistance in educating the public or business that have received complaints in the past.”

The surge of recent cases has caused a crack down on face mask wearing not only in Alachua County but across Florida and in hot spots throughout the U.S. Even U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who is from Florida, has announced “Everyone should just wear a damn mask.”

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And while a number of social media groups throughout Alachua County are still arguing about wearing protective face coverings to stop the spread of a deadly virus that has claimed more than 3,300 lives in Florida, shut down the economy and driven the unemployment rate to a record high, vulnerable senior citizens donning face masks are walking into Home Depot on Tower Road and getting a nod of approval from Officers Gates and Norris.

To report a code violation anonymously online, go here or call City of Gainesville Code Enforcement at 352-334-5030. 

To see current code violation reports under investigation, go here.

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