Before Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe asked for the approval of the Feb. 8 regular meeting agenda, Commissioner Tim Marden moved to excuse the absences of Commissioner Ricky Coleman due to Coleman's battle with COVID-19.
Marden moved that until Commissioner Coleman is able to return, that his absences be excused without further need to address any future ongoing absences.
The motion, which has not been previously reported, was seconded by Commissioner Mark Clark and passed unanimously.
"On behalf of the Newberry Commission, the Newberry staff, the Newberry community, we wish him a speedy recovery," Mayor Marlowe said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at this time. And we are sure he will join us again with his jovial ways on the dais soon."
Coleman's last in-person appearance at a City of Newberry regular meeting was on Dec. 14th. In that meeting, Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers dialed in and presented the status of COVID-19 in Alachua County and in Newberry.
During his report, Myers said Alachua County had been averaging 75-125 cases per day. He reported that, as of Dec. 14, Alachua County had 14,128 confirmed COVID-19 cases and the City of Newberry had 603 cases. Myers said 4.27 percent of Alachua County cases are City of Newberry residents, noting the 603 cases meant 10 percent of Newberry residents had tested positive for COVID-19.
Marlowe asked if the cases were representing residents in the City of Newberry limits or the ZIP code 32669. Myers said he had his staff break out the cases to count only those cases that have occurred within the city limits of Newberry, where about 6,100 residents live.
Myers reported that cases per capita (per 1,000 residents) at the time was 86.09 for Gainesville, 68.35 for City of Alachua, 98.61 for Newberry and 55.08 for High Springs.
"The outlying municipalities have not been spared," Myers said.
Myers also presented the COVID-19 cases at schools. At the time, Newberry High School had 49 cases compared to Santa Fe High's 13 cases. Oak View Middle School in Newberry had 10 cases, and Newberry Elementary School had 5 confirmed cases.
Myers then reminded the commission that household transmission was the No. 1 place COVID-19 was being contracted and that the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 was to wear masks appropriately, observe social distancing, and avoid gatherings and wash your hands.
Seven months prior, at the May 21 regular meeting, the Newberry Commission opted to follow the state emergency order instead of Alachua County's. That vote removed the requirement of wearing a face mask in city limits of Newberry.
The Newberry Commission's order claimed that Alachua County’s emergency order is unconstitutional, but a federal judge denied the request for an emergency injunction motion that challenged making face mask wearing mandatory in Alachua County.
Since then, many restaurants and businesses in Newberry have declined to mandate face masks for their staff and customers.
As a result of ignoring the Alachua County face mask mandate outlined in Alachua County Emergency order 2020-50, the City of Newberry was denied CARES Act funding by the county which stipulated that following the county's emergency order was a requirement for municipalities to request and receive CARES Act reimbursements for COVID-19 related costs.
Commissioner Coleman took part in a special City Commission meeting on Dec. 21st. via Zoom. His last vote was on the approval of construction plans for Avalon Woods, part of the Lexington Station mixed-use development.
Commissioner Coleman was absent from the regular meeting on Jan. 11. In a Jan. 3 post on his Facebook page, Commissioner Coleman wrote that he had contracted COVID-19, along with many of his family members: "This crap is bad and real!! At least social distance."
No posts or updates have been added to his page since that date.
On Jan. 19, Mayor Marlowe announced on Facebook that Coleman had been hospitalized with COVID-19. "He is stable, but is on a ventilator," Marlowe reported.
The next day, Mayor Marlowe reported that Coleman was "off the ventilator, and is doing well."
"Commissioner Coleman isn't out of the woods yet, and there are many more in our community who continue to need our thoughts, prayers, and help," Marlowe wrote.
As of Feb. 15, the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard reports 21,830 cases of COVID-19 in Alachua County since March, with 982 hospitalizations and 199 deaths.
The 32669 ZIP code on the dashboard, which includes inside the City of Newberry its surrounding area, has 1,108 reported cases.
Mainstreet Daily News asked Marlowe for an update on Commissioner Coleman's status and he responded, "Not at this time."