New emergency order loosens county restrictions

Coronavirus illustration
Coronavirus illustration

A year after Alachua County entered a local state of emergency, the Board of County Commissioners will address the newly issued Emergency Order 2021-13 at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The new order went into effect today and loosens face masks, social distancing and crowd restrictions. It comes as the state and county enter Phase Three of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Step By Step Recovery Plan.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the BOCC will conduct its usual COVID-19 discussion, which starts with a presentation of the current data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, vaccinations and positivity rate trends by Paul Myers, director of the Alachua County Health Department (ACDH).

The newly adopted order will stay in effect until May 12, 2021 or until Alachua County no longer has a local state of emergency. It recognizes that in Alachua County the rate of new COVID-19 cases has slowed to a 14-day average of 1.7 percent, according to the ACDH—but some restrictions remain.

“Groups with more than 50 people are not permitted to congregate in a space that does not readily allow for appropriate social distancing (six feet) unless individuals are wearing facial coverings,” the order says.

The order states that those in violation of this rule, “may be ordered to disperse by law enforcement or other governmental employees authorized by the County Manager or in the case of a municipality the City Manager or other administrative head of the municipality.”

“Groups of any number who are not socially distancing and not wearing facial coverings will be required to socially distance and may be ordered to disperse,” the EO states.

The order notes the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. As defined by the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals are two weeks past both doses of Pfizer or Moderna or two weeks past receiving a single shot of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“To the extent that such gatherings are composed of those who have been fully vaccinated and other individuals approved by the CDC to gather with the fully vaccinated, this section does not apply to such a gathering,” the EO states. “Any individual enforcing this order may ask for proof of vaccination.”

Talk on Gainesville and Alachua County social media groups is already raising concern about officials asking for proof of vaccination. Some in the debate agree that masking up and keeping gatherings is a safe practice to continue while others see it as an overreach of government.

The new order continues to put the responsibility of safe practices in work and business spaces on the employers and business owners.

“Board of County Commissioners believes that, requiring businesses and employers to take responsibility, and be liable, for their employees compliance with the facial coverings requirement, while those employees are engaged in employment-related activities, will result in greater compliance with the facial coverings requirement and is consistent with a business or employer’s responsibility to provide a healthy, safe environment for employees and the public,” the EO reads.

Those exempt from the facial coverings portion of the EO are: children under 6, persons who have trouble breathing due to a chronic pre-existing condition or individuals with a documented or demonstrable medical problem.

“It is the intent of this provision that those individuals who cannot tolerate a facial covering for a medical, sensory or any other condition, which makes it difficult for them to utilize a facial covering and function in public, are not required to wear one. It is recognized that this requirement is broader than what might be considered a covered condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Gov. DeSantis blocked the ability for any municipality in the state to fine a person for not wearing a face covering. But the BOCC’s order does require, “Persons working in or visiting grocery stores, restaurants, bars, dance halls, nightclubs, in-store retail establishments, pharmacies, public transit vehicles, vehicles for hire, along with locations inside or outside, where social distancing measures are not possible shall appropriately wear facial coverings as defined by the CDC, in a manner which covers the mouth and orifices of the nose.”

The order does state that businesses that don’t comply can be cited.

“Businesses and employers are required to ensure that their employees are using appropriate facial coverings and other methods to protect the employees and public, unless the employee meets an exception in Sec. 3(c) of this Emergency Order. The business or employer may be cited, along with the employee, for an employee’s violation of this section, if the employee is actually engaged in employment-related activities at the time of the violation. Each employee failing to wear a facial covering without an exemption as set forth in this Order shall be treated as a separate violation for which the employer may be cited.”

The BOCC meeting starts at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The public may attend and participate in this meeting virtually and in-person. To view the complete agenda click here.

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