BOCC extends, modifies emergency order

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously extended its mask mandate for seven days with some modifications at its Tuesday meeting.

The board modified its mask order from last week to exempt children ages 2 to 5, though officials still highly encourage those ages to wear masks in public.

According to the county attorney, the BOCC order does not override regulations from the School Board of Alachua County. The county order also excludes charter and private schools.

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Another modification announces that the county is moving toward enforcement of the mask order. The BOCC included language that prevents businesses from prohibiting or discouraging employees from wearing masks.

Commissioners also spoke about the need to get the word out, directing the communications office to print signs for distribution in the community.

County communications director Mark Sexton said a county social media post announcing the emergency order last week received 2,400 comments, 160,000 impressions, 1,900 emoji reactions and 917 shares.

He said county officials had received constant phone calls from citizens concerning the order. Sexton estimated that he has fielded 10 positive phone calls for every negative one.

Paul Myers, administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, told the BOCC that the county had 1,494 new COVID-19 cases between Aug. 13 and Aug. 19.

Myers thought the most telling data concerned the rate of unvaccinated hospitalizations. UF Shands reports 93 percent of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, while North Florida Regional Medical Center reports 90 percent are unvaccinated.

“Those numbers just don’t lie,” Myers said.

Myers said data for Aug. 13-20 show a slight decline in cases from the previous weeks, but he noted that doesn’t mean the county has hit a peak.

“And I know what the question is going to be, ‘Have we hit a peak?’” Myers said. “I don’t know.”

He said the large number of UF students returning could change things in the county. But he said trends in other jurisdictions where the delta variant dominated show potential hope.

“The dramatic increase has resulted in a dramatic decrease, and it still remains to be seen whether or not we’re going to see that here,” Myers said.

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