Since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared on Oct. 2nd that cities and counties cannot collect on any fines resulting from noncompliance with COVID-19 emergency orders, Alachua County is now expecting businesses to enforce face mask use and social distancing.
During the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on Oct. 6th, commissioners and the county attorney acknowledged that the county cannot collect on any future citations, but that doesn’t mean code enforcement will stop issuing them.
So far, no citations have been issued and only warnings have been delivered to customers and businesses by Alachua County code enforcement officers.
“The governor took away some enforcement,” Chair Robert Hutchinson said about DeSantis’ decision to waive all fines issued in Florida for face masks and other pandemic emergency order violations.
Hutchinson said he could have issued an amended emergency order on his own last week in answer to Gov. DeSantis’ announcement, but he wanted to hear from the rest of the commission on how to move forward.
According to County Attorney Sylvia Torres who clarified the language of the governor’s order, municipalities can’t collect against individuals, but it “doesn’t say you can’t cite individuals or cite and collect from businesses.”
Moving forward, Alachua County will continue to require face mask use in places such as events, businesses, restaurants and stores where social distancing is difficult. Also, businesses must display the required signage stating those rules.
An amended emergency order will be issued by the BOCC that requires businesses to enforce those rules or get fined.
The City of Gainesville cited and closed a bar on Saturday night because it surpassed the capacity limit required by code enforcement.
Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers told the BOCC that the COVID-19 cases are rising fastest in the college student group from ages 18 to 24.
He also said that cases were highest in college dorms at UF and are now moving off campus to bars where students are congregating and disregarding social distancing and face mask use.
Chair Hutchinson said that up until the Phase 3 reopening declaration, “It was always about the individuals,” following the rules. “Some businesses as corporate policy said no mask, no entry. They made that decision corporately.”
Commissioner Ken Cornell said it would be a potential misdemeanor for a business not enforcing the emergency order. His suggestion: “Come out with an order that signage needs to be there and have code enforcement go out and hand them a sign,” Cornell said. “Work on signage for a while with the hope that a messaging campaign will work with college students.”
Chair Hutchinson said, “We could cite businesses for not having signs.”
“In part, what we do needs to be in conjunction with Gainesville,” he added. “A vast majority of businesses are doing a good job,” he added about enforcing face mask use and social distancing. “A few are doing everything they can to be super spreaders.”