On Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced Florida would be moving to Phase 3 of reopening Florida. The Executive Order, in part, allows bars, pubs, nightclubs, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers operating at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols.
In Alachua County, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and Alachua County Board of Commissioners Chair Robert Hutchinson had reservations with the Order, and wrote DeSantis an open letter stating their concerns.
Here is the letter in its entirety:
“On behalf of our neighbors in the City of Gainesville and Alachua County, I resolutely urge you to reconsider the extent of your executive action announced today regarding the Phase 3 re-opening in Florida. Of particular concern is how local governments would be impacted with enforcing local fines and penalties related to those who do not comply with protecting our neighbors’ health. Since the start of the pandemic, we have only issued a dozen fines on individual violators over a six month period. We attribute a less severe caseload of positive tests and deaths to these types of pro-active efforts where reasonable enforcement has been allowed.
Just a few weeks ago, colleges and universities like the University of Florida opened amid the pandemic. We have since seen a significant increase in cases, including our highest single-day positivity rate ever and the highest 14 day average since the pandemic began. We continue to steadfastly work with our University partners to address prevention of spread. Part of this effort involves our new initiative allowing restaurants and bars to have extended outdoor seating in conjunction with Florida Department of Transportation’s approval. This endeavor will help dozens of local businesses economically while also maintaining social distancing and health standards that are vital in defeating the spread of COVID19.
In order for our efforts to remain successful, we need to maintain the ability to enforce norms and standards suitable to a university community as recommended by our medical experts at the University of Florida and UF Health. We have been working closely with our Health Department, University Leadership and our neighbors to find the best fit that works to both protect public health and allow our economy to thrive.
As a local leader, what concerns us the most is that the momentum we have gained due to our local efforts over the past six months would be potentially lost in how we have successfully limited the pandemic from what could have produced far worse outcomes. The new executive action seems to place more burden on an already overburdened local community, against effective efforts in rightly applying our police powers meant to protect public health.
As we had mentioned in a previous letter to you dated May 21, we not only want Florida to survive but also to thrive. For this to happen our efforts must not only begin, but also must be sustained at the local level. In this spirit, we wholeheartedly beseech you to adjust your executive action and allow more flexibility in the continuance of local control, especially within university towns that have clearly become the newest epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks.”