City and county commissions discuss implementing another shutdown when students return


The Gainesville City Commission and Alachua County Commission met together on Wednesday to talk about the University of Florida’s plans for re-opening in the fall and what measures local governments should take in response. Dr. Charles Lane and Dr. David Nelson represented the university at the meeting.

The university’s plan is here. In response to questions from the commissioners, university officials said they have a capacity of 1000 tests per day and that they will issue two cloth masks to each student.

When asked what they will do about professors and classmates if a student tests positive, the officials said that they will do contact tracing, and anyone who has been within 6 feet of the infected person for more than 15 minutes would be considered a contact. However, they said that if both people are wearing masks, this would not be considered a contact. Since everyone is supposed to wear masks on campus, professors and classmates would generally not be considered contacts. 

However, the CDC’s definition of a contact uses the same guidelines for distance and time but says, “Note: This is irrespective of whether the person with COVID-19 or the contact was wearing a cloth face covering or whether the contact was wearing respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE).”

When asked about medical exemptions, Lane said students who claim medical exemptions from face masks would be encouraged to use a face shield instead of a mask.

Nelson was also asked about hospital capacity. He said the Shands system has plenty of capacity, including the ability to accept 200 more ICU patients in Gainesville. He said that he believed the decision to stop doing some elective procedures at North Florida Regional was made by the parent corporation as a system-wide decision.

Nelson said that hospital capacity numbers are difficult to interpret because the state data relies on the number of licensed beds registered at the state level and doesn’t account for surge capacity. He added that hospitals typically run at about 98% of their capacity, so the current availability of 6% is higher than usual.

The commissioners talked about how the university and the City can work together to improve compliance with face mask mandates, and they said that if a student gets a citation in the community (at a retail store, for example) for not wearing a face mask, the City would send that information to UF so the student can also be disciplined by the university.

“I’m very much hoping that bars stay closed for indoor service. I also think that one of the next most dangerous places are indoor restaurant service.”

In a discussion about entertainment opportunities for students, who will be asked to give up parties, bars, and other group activities, Mayor Lauren Poe said, “We have got to reimagine and, almost from scratch, create a new culture in Gainesville. Not just for our students, but for everybody, and in that, I think there’s a lot of exciting possibilities. I think we can engage our arts and entertainment community, challenge them to provide meaningful opportunities where students and non-students alike can enjoy themselves. 

“Some of it’s going to be virtual; some of it’s going to be safely physically distanced outdoors. I will be very clear: I’m very much hoping that bars stay closed for indoor service. I also think that one of the next most dangerous places are indoor restaurant service.”

City Commissioner Harvey Ward favored a stronger partnership between the City, the County, and UF: “When we started all this back in March, I assumed—and shame on me for assuming this—that the county health department meant, kind of, the county health department, and it was something that was responsible and responsive to local leadership. And I’ve learned differently, so I’ll proceed differently. We know that the county health department operates as part of the state bureaucracy, and that’s fine; they have a very different role than I think a lot of people understand them to.

“That being the case, it’s incumbent on leaders of Alachua County and the City of Gainesville, I think, to take this opportunity that we’re presented to re-think how we approach public health in our community and what role the County and the City have, and how we can best partner with one of the world’s great public health institutions, who happens to be right here in our community…

“So I’d like you to all be thinking about how we can partner together, all three institutions—City, County, and UF—specifically about public health, not only in pandemic situations, but also in regular, every day improvements of health for the people who live in this community. Again, I misunderstood the Department of Health’s role in our county… and shame on me, I won’t make that mistake again.”

Lane said that he had met this week with City Manager Lee Feldman and some bar and restaurant owners: “It really opened my eyes. These folks sat there and said, ‘Listen, we can’t survive in a 50% capacity. It’s that simple. We have to figure out other ways around this.’ And that resonated with me; it really did. We know the students want to do something other than just go to a museum. That’s a reality. So I think all of us have got to figure out a way to make it possible for these kids to be successful in this environment. Give them, as I said, the benefit of the doubt. If we can help them be successful, then I think they will be successful.”

City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, however, said, “We should be reducing our indoor dining and indoor recreation, for example, pool halls or bowling alleys… Are we at the point to start restricting indoor dining and things like that?”

“The infections are being driven by private events, by house parties, block parties, that sort of thing. And that tracing them back to places of employment and to restaurants, it isn’t happening right now.”

County Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson said they’d talked about it but hadn’t made that decision yet. “We keep asking the health director to tell us more what they’re discovering through contact tracing, and what he continually tell us is that, when he checks with the epidemiologists, the infections are being driven by private events, by house parties, block parties, that sort of thing. And that tracing them back to places of employment and to restaurants, it isn’t happening right now.

“And so, we would be quick to shut down a bowling alley or a pool hall if we thought that was a major vector, or a barbershop or whatever, but right now the indications are it’s primarily private activities that are causing the spread to be as rapid as it is. And those are a lot harder to regulate… We know it’s not always comfortable to be partying outside… in Florida in August, so I don’t know what the solution’s going to be.”

“We kind of quarantine the city for 3 or 4 weeks and say hey, we’re just going to shut down, and then we’d be able to kind of bring it back up again.”

Hayes-Santos said thousands of students would be coming into town in a few weeks “and a lot of them are coming from areas that do have very large community spread in south Florida. I’m wondering if [we did] kind of a pre-emptive shutdown during those first few weeks when school starts, almost kind of a way to quarantine the city for that period of time when those students do arrive… that we kind of quarantine the city for 3 or 4 weeks and say hey, we’re just going to shut down, and then we’d be able to kind of bring it back up again.”

City Commissioner David Arreola moved that the city commission direct their government to work with the University of Florida to recruit contact tracers and coordinate what he called a “one-Gainesville quarantine culture.”

The motion passed unanimously.

  • They should shut down all the pot dispensaries in the state of Florida and close all vapor shops and
    Definitely no more cigarettes because all those are
    Bad for your lungs. Right elected officials? Smoking is
    Bad for your health…Covid affects the lungs…

  • Enough is enough…the state needs to preempt the
    Local devisions….they are destroying the local economy
    And small business…has anyone done a cost/benefit
    Analysis? Where’s professor David Denslow?

    • that should have said: the state needs to preempt the local DECISIONS, not devisions (I.e., take away home rule from these local tyrants).

  • Here’s an idea the pea brained idiot leaders should implement if they are so concerned…erect a wall, did I say that – a protective barrier around all of the university property to protect the residents they claim to care about. Maybe the fake leaders would even volunteer to be on the inside of the gated community to provide “counseling.”
    They could sit around a big campfire in the center of Florida Field and sing Kumbaya together. Roast marshmallows and talk about how wonderful this will all be if they just continue to live under their Marxist rules.

    • The wall or protective barrier is actually a great idea….a face mask is a
      Wall (protective barrier) to cover your nose & mouth…quarantine is keeping
      You inside your homes’s 4 walls to be a “superhero”…
      How about everyone’s gotta be inside a personal bubble?

      Question: I was wearing an N95 mask in Publix going
      In the one direction and a person walked past me and passed some gas (farted) and I smelled it…does that mean my N95 mask was useless?
      If the person had covid, do I need to get tested or is
      There a 3 second rule like when you drop a slice of
      Pizza on the floor?

    • For once I agree with realtruth2020. Build a wall. A yuge beautiful wall. North and south along 34th Street. To keep all the Springs County hayseeds in their cow pastures and out of Alachua County. Yes, a wall will be needed soon to keep Springs County residents from contaminating civilization.

  • So you all think it’s a great idea to shut down all of our businesses, who have been hurt terribly during the first shut down, just to make it comfortable for all the students to come back who most are not even from here or will be staying here after they finish their degree?!?!?! This is such a joke! I have lost all faith and respect for Alachua County ???

    • I don’t think any opinion pieces above have supported any of the county and city leaders’ decisions to shut down the economy again. You can join the long list of other “residents” who have no respect for the idiots.

  • Any consideration to shut down the economy with the mortality rate approaching zero will be widely considered to be a political ploy to tamper with the presidential election and campaign cycle.

    With the ongoing scandal in PCR lab test reports, the public is losing all faith in the Fla Dept of Health’s (FDH) ability to manage the reportedly 450 PCR test contractors – one of which had to hide behind anonymity to claim they had been told to only report positive cases. The directive to only report positive cases allegedly originated by an email from the FDH according to TV20:

    “Capitol News Service (CNS) obtained an email sent to a private lab by the Department of Health at 6 P.M. Tuesday, clarifying that negative test results do need to be reported.”

    As the testing scandal became national news the Florida Department of Health was caught not providing any oversight to the testing process – and belatedly promising to “continuing” to educate (not fine or penalize) the labs even though the reporting policy would be expected to be the hands of the lab director and employees before the first test was performed.

    So the public has good reason to suspect the FDH is behind the rigging the Covid-19 test results.

    North Central Florida Diagnostics & DNA Technologies in Alachua claimed they have not been required to report their negative tests but promised to work more closely with FDH. How can we trust that promise when It’s presumed that the FDH, itself, was the authority promoting the PCR reporting fraud.?

    What’s equally curious are the vast number of labs that only submitted “one” report. This raises as many questions as the problem with labs only reporting either positive or negative test results.

    Then there’s hospital that claimed, “it has routinely reported positive and negative cases, but has experienced ongoing issues with the spreadsheet.” . So we are to imagine they blindly report the results then go back days later to see if the spread sheet was hacked? Every excuse offered seems totally absurd and in need of a formal investigation.

    So the city/county will light a fuse of public outrage by using fraudulent reporting numbers in their politically charged decision to close the economy for no reason as the mortality rate continues to approach zero.
    TV2O REPORT: https://www.wcjb.com/2020/07/15/questions-remain-over-labs-reporting-100-percent-positive-cases/

  • I have found the presentations from the Alachua County Health director to be informative and fact driven, not politically slanted. I guess Commissioner Ward’s “mistake” was that the data does not fit his and the rest of the commission’s agenda.

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