BOCC calls emergency meeting to address COVID surge

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will hold an emergency meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss a possible countywide face mask mandate and indoor capacity limits.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia raised the issue during the commission comments portion of a budget meeting on Tuesday morning. 

“I’m growing concerned about the masking situation in our community,” Prizzia said, adding that she has spoken with medical experts at local hospitals about the impact COVID-19 is having on facilities and personnel. “I am feeling more and more strongly that we have to move forward to a mask mandate for indoors in public.”

Prizzia said the experts have relayed that a peak in the pandemic is still four to six weeks away. While hospitals say they can expand bed capacity and order more equipment for ICU units, the experts are stating that the nurses and staff are in short supply and out-of-town nurses are being brought in to fill gaps.

“We have physically and emotionally drained health care professionals,” Prizzia said. “I want to make sure we don’t end up with a medical failure.”

On Saturday, Lake City Medical Center hit its oxygen capacity and had to direct patients to other facilities in the area. 

Commissioner Mary Alford suggested that upcoming government events that might become super spreaders—such as the upcoming county leadership summit—should be canceled. 

Alford said some of the leaders who will be attending that event are against wearing face masks.

BOCC Chair Ken Cornell said he “thinks about this daily, what our community is grappling with.”

Cornell brought up Tuesday night’s School Board of Alachua County meeting during which local experts will speak to the urgency of rising COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations in Alachua County.

He agreed that now is the time for a meeting to discuss putting an emergency order addressing capacity limits and face mask rules.

Prizzia made the motion and the entire BOCC voted in favor.

Cornell said they will discuss a seven-day order that could be extended but added that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis might “void it the next day.”

On Aug. 5 Cornell signed an emergency declaration in Alachua County, but it did not make requirements of citizens. In May, DeSantis signed an executive order and legislation ending local emergency orders that were for more than seven days or limited individual rights and liberties. 

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