BOCC may let emergency order expire next month

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will convene on April 13 and hopes to make a decision at that meeting to end the emergency order related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BOCC Chair Ken Cornell thanked the dozens of callers and in-person attendees of Tuesday’s regular meeting for taking the time to make comments to the board. It took two hours for all of the people on the phones and in the adjacent meeting room to speak.

A majority of speakers were against the order, citing government overreach on the face mask mandate and vaccination language of Emergency Order 2021-13.

“I understand the frustration of many of you, and I share those being in this situation,” Cornell said.

Cornell said the Florida governor’s emergency order, which is extended through the end of April, is the deciding factor on when Alachua County can lift its order.

“What I would like to see is for him to open up the vaccine and make them available for everyone,” Cornell said. “That’s one of my conditions,” he said. “I would like the vaccine available for anyone. I would never make it mandatory.”

Cornell said he is also against requiring a vaccine card for citizens to present to authorities upon request.

“I am very open to moving from a mandatory masking requirement into a recommended masking requirement in April,” Cornell said, adding, “If the governor would allow everyone to take a vaccine and they are readily available.”

Cornell said the BOCC also looks at the COVID-19 metrics presented by the health department when making public health and safety decisions.

“The current order was signed in on Monday because it needs to be updated every seven days,” Cornell said, explaining why the order went into effect before the Tuesday meeting.

Cornell said there is a misinformation campaign about the order circulating online.

“We are on the last mile of a very, very long trip,” he said.

As it stands, the differences in Alachua County’s order from the state’s are the face mask mandate, required signage for businesses and it requires people attending gatherings either social distance where possible or wear face masks if social distancing is not possible.

It further states that if everyone in a gathering is vaccinated, then social distancing and face masks are not required.

According to the county order, it will stay in effect until May 12 or “until Alachua County no longer has a local state of emergency.

“This expiration date does not do away with any requirement that the local state of emergency must be extended in seven-day increments as required by Section 252.38, Fla. Stat. Further, the Board intends to review this Order periodically, but no later than its regularly scheduled meeting of April 13, to address the status of vaccinations and consider if this Order should be continued at that time.”

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