Gainesville commission requests stronger mask mandate

coronavirus mask
coronavirus mask

The Gainesville City Commission is asking the Alachua Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to update its existing mask mandate to include some enforcement on businesses in the community.

The city commission met virtually for its regular General Policy Committee on Thursday and reviewed the county mask mandate, which the BOCC reviewed and extended Tuesday.

The city commission had previously voted to enforce the county mandate at its Aug. 19 meeting.

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Through City Manager Lee Feldman, the commission is requesting the BOCC look at adding a requirement that businesses post signs about the masking requirements.

The emergency order, which has to be reviewed and extended each week, requires people to wear masks inside public spaces unless they have certain health or age exemptions. The order does not extend to private homes.

People who do not comply with the order can be ticketed and fined for violating the mandate, but the order doesn’t require businesses to post information about the mandate or make an effort to enforce it.

The county is expected to send the city 5,000 mandate-related signs to the city, and the city has agreed to pass them out.

“There’s no requirement that the business actually put up the sign, but hopefully they do,” Feldman said.

In addition to asking the county to amend its order to require businesses to post the sign, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he would like the county to return to requiring businesses to enforce the mandate or face citation.

He also said he would like the city to reactivate its 311 service for the mask mandate so that people in the community can call to report violations of the order.

Mayor Lauren Poe said he would like for the current order to more closely follow the previous emergency order regarding masks.

“The closer it can be to the way it was originally written and enforced, the better for everybody, especially people out in the public who, I think, both understood it by the time it had been in place for a while and supported it,” Poe said. “People were really good about it, after that initial phase-in period. The closer we can get it to that, the more successful and effective it will be.”

Feldman said that in the city he would have the Gainesville Police Department to issue the non-criminal mask citations to individuals and not involve the city’s codes enforcement and neighborhood enhancement employees.

“I want to avoid our non-sworn staff basically getting into confrontational matters that could escalate,” Feldman told the commissioners. “They do not have the right type of equipment to deal with that. They are not trained for de-escalation-type activities–that’s more a GPD-type of function.”

Feldman said he had already spoken to the county about the city’s concerns and said he thinks those concerns may be part of the discussion of the order at the next BOCC meeting.

He said the county was trying to keep in compliance with a series of state rules that place limits on pandemic-related mandates.

“I respect they are treading a line that they did not create,” Feldman said.

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