HomeLocal governmentCounty commission keeps mask mandate despite lengthy public comment against masks
County commission keeps mask mandate despite lengthy public comment against masks
April 13, 2021
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
The April 13 Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) meeting included a discussion of the current COVID-19 emergency order. Paul Myers led off with a discussion of the current COVID-19 data, then UF’s Dr. Michael Lauzardo was asked for his advice on changing the order. Lauzardo said that in times of uncertainty, “people want community and safety,” and that we should keep doing what we’re doing “because we’re not done yet.” He said he wanted to “get past some of that vaccine hesitancy” and added, “We don’t finish unless we get everybody vaccinated.”
Instead of moving on to a motion and discussion, the BoCC at that point inserted an agenda item that had been removed from the consent agenda, leaving multiple people waiting to give comments on the COVID-19 agenda item. After passing a motion, they moved on to a second agenda item, but Commission Chair Ken Cornell interrupted and said there were a lot of people on hold for the previous agenda item.
Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler moved that the BoCC renew the current order but remove the gathering exemption for vaccinated individuals; the current order states that vaccinated individuals can gather without masks and social distancing. County Attorney Sylvia Torres suggested adding the “substantive provision” that no official will ask a person about their vaccination status, and Wheeler agreed to that amendment of her motion.
Cornell asked how many were there to comment: there were 12 in person and 12 on the phone, so he decided to cut the amount of time per person to 3 minutes instead of 2 minutes. When he said, “Is that okay?”, the people who were there in person could be heard yelling, “No!”
29 people asked the commission to remove the mask mandate, and 5 spoke in favor of keeping it.
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A retired emergency nurse said, “We’ve met the goals to flatten the curve… It’s now time to let people exercise their personal responsibility.” Lauren, a mental health professional, said we need to study the mental health effects of the order. Erica asked why there were 3 deputies in the room: “It’s intended to be intimidating.” Several people said the commissioners were acting like Nazis.
David Fowler said he was a scientist and Professional Engineer with 30 years of experience working with viruses: “First, I am OSHA trained… OSHA sets the guidelines for masks, not doctors… OSHA states that the masks we have on our face now do not protect us from viruses… Children are the least at risk and have almost 100% recovery rate. Knowing this, why on earth would we deprive their growing brains to oxygen?… Why would we ever force over their mouths a moist environment for bacteria and fungus?… This is not tragic, it’s criminal.”
Molly, a registered nurse of 20 years, said “Masks increase the risk of disease to the wearer… People touch the masks… we rebreathe the particles that we exhaled…” Nick Gamblin said, “Many treatments have been developed and proven effective.. our healthcare providers were never overrun with COVID patients… vaccines are available to every adult… The situation has completely changed in the past year… Replace the local mask orders with mask recommendations.”
Brad Weinberg, a medical researcher, said, “Dr. Lauzardo… has a very one-sided view.” He read from a Yahoo News article about Nordic countries, which have low usage of face masks and “excellent numbers in terms of COVID numbers and COVID mortalities… studies show no significant reduction in transmission of influenza with face masks… Dr. Lauzardo cited no science.”
Nathan Skop pointed out that “wearing a mask did not stop Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe from the cold or flu he had last week… I’m not in favor of government mandates as citizens are perfectly capable of making decisions… The vaccines are approved for emergency use only, there are articles today that Dr. Lauzardo didn’t mention about Johnson & Johnson causing blood clots.”
Brad, who has 4 school-age kids, said, “Mental health and the management of anxiety and depression is a big role in my family… These masks are hurting their mental health… these masks are dehumanizing, the behavior of children is changing behind these masks… You’ve chosen to issue this mandate without any advice from mental health providers in this community… It is reckless that you’ve made this health decision for my family without knowing my family… I’m here to let you know that my family is COVID-recovered, and the only thing a mask can do is harm to my family.”
Laura talked about a family member that works in NICU. They’d had a baby there for 6 months, who had never seen a face without a mask… [She] pulled down her mask to smile at the baby. He lit up.”
Gina Dortch said, “The emotional toll this has taken on my children, having to mask in school, has been heartbreaking… Not one mental health doctor or expert to guide [BoCC] or the school board… This should be between me and my doctor, period. Each family has different needs, and they need to be addressed individually… I will be the first to file a lawsuit and possibly make it a class action… there’s an epidemic of sadness, loneliness, and depression among our children.”
Megan Mansell said she is a “District education director responsible for immune-compromised, profoundly disabled, undocumented, Autistic, and behaviorally challenged students under full ADA, IDEA, and OSHA compliance, with a background in hazardous environs PPE applications, which includes which respirators work when and why.… None of you sitting before us today are protected against COVID-size particulates, nor are you protecting others… Had you taken pause before jumping on the mask mandate bandwagon, you’d have considered that there are zero efficacy standards for child size masks. You are requiring untested, unregulated apparatuses which restrict breathing, cause increased CO2 exposure, and are a petri dish of secondary pathogens directly in front of oral/nasal mucosa.”
Kali Blount, a nurse working at Shands, was the first to speak in favor of the mask mandate. He says at work he sees “the gasping and gagging going on… If I could find a lawyer… I would sue the governor for the failure to make a mask mandate.”
Josh said, “The mask mandate is largely unenforceable, as is the capacity requirement… it makes no sense to have a mandate that you can’t enforce.” Mariah said the BoCC was not paying attention to the speakers: “It’s disrespectful, along with cutting our time… By requiring such high numbers of people to be vaccinated… to bring back our freedoms, I’ve seen this coming for a long time, and it’s a big concern of mine, to pit people against each other to say that vaccinated people get to be angry at the unvaccinated people because they are not getting their freedoms… this is dangerous and irresponsible, and it will cause a lot of unrest.”
Lillie Simon asked that schools be made mask-optional: “Masks have affected my children in a very negative way… they have lost their spark… [They have] headaches on a regular basis from lack of oxygen… children have been totally left out of the equation… wearing masks at recess and P.E… Where are the studies that show there are no harms for the long-term use of masks in school-age children? Masks are… filthy, it’s not healthy… All the teachers who want a vaccine have been vaccinated.”
Debbie Martinez said, “I’m a retired registered nurse, and I appreciate your professionalism in making healthcare decisions based on advice from medical professionals… We have come too far to let our guard down now.”
Sheila Payne said, “It is not a big deal to wear a mask… none of the kids in my neighborhood seem to complain about it… I hope the schools don’t lift the mandate to have the children masked in the schools.”
Shaye complained that commissioners “can’t sit in a room with the people you represent and have a conversation with us… We are concerned, and you are not listening to us!… The majority of people are sick and tired of being told what to do with their health… we do not need to be forced to do anything… You need to look at the science, you’re only paying attention to the science that backs what you think… there’s plenty of other science at this point… we’re tired of being told to wear a petri dish on our faces every day.”
Kathy Benton said, “You never did answer my question at the last meeting about what metric you’ll be relying on before letting us get back to normal… last March, it was flatten the curve, keep our hospitals where they can handle the patients coming in for COVID… the rest of us should be able to get back to normal.”
Michelle, a parent of 3 boys, said, “We have a very large group of parents who are unhappy about masking our children for 8 hours a day… [we sent masks to an] enterprising investigator, and the early results show dangerous pathogens… You have lost sight of who you work for… You don’t work for Dr. Lauzardo… make the masks a recommendation, if you want, but it should not be a law. We are begging you to be open to the harms of masking… we can see in the real-world data that they have not made a difference.”
Chanae Jackson said, “I get tickled at the sense of entitlement that I have heard on this call.. words like oppressed, anxiety, inconvenience… if putting on masks saves one life, it’s worth it… If you don’t want to wear the mask, stay home. It’s that simple… Other constituents don’t have the time to sit on the phone and whine like a petulant child… The reason the mask mandate had to happen is the refusal to wear the mask… there are so many selfish people in this county… How privileged must you all be to ignore actual science” She went on to talk about “Trump b.s. and QAnon conspiracies” and called other callers “whiny, bratty Patty… some of this just sounds like a bunch of blatant stupidity… protect the entire community, not just a privileged few…”
After public comment ended, Commissioner Mary Alford said, “When you’re winning the game, you don’t change the strategy.” She said a lot of people called in against masks, but lots of people emailed commissioners in support of masks. “I don’t think a majority of people support removing the order.”
Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said, “I support the CDC recommendations… they still recommend wearing masks… I don’t know where folks are getting their information from… I’m going to support continuing the masks. It’s for all the citizens of Alachua County, not just a few citizens… A lot of people aren’t following the mask order, anyway, so I don’t understand the hoopla about this mask order.”
Commissioner Anna Prizzia said, “I think we need to keep the mask order in place and stay the course… Unfortunately, those that do support masks didn’t call in today, but… the majority of the people writing in to ask us to keep the mask mandate are business owners who have to be inside all day.”
Cornell added, “The data is constantly being updated… I spend a lot of time going through that… a lot of the comments I heard today are folks that have children, and I certainly understand the issue of kids going to school and kids wearing masks… that’s not what we govern, we have very capable school board members that are navigating that… I think adding a mental health professional to the SMAC is a good idea… With regards to enforceability… this county has taken an educate-first approach… we have chosen not to enforce because the overwhelming majority of our citizens have voluntarily… put on masks to enter businesses… the numbers have reflected how well our community has done… Dr. Lauzardo… is a leading expert… he is advising not just UF but the state… he is an honest broker when it comes to this disease… He said we’re weeks away… I think he’s thinking early May, which is when our order expires… I would be ready to lift the mask mandate requirement when our current order expires on May 12… The only thing that would change that is if the governor doesn’t renew his emergency order on April 27… We won’t ask people if they’ve been vaccinated, and other than that, status quo on the order.”
The motion passed 4-1 with Alford in dissent because she disagreed with the changes to the order.
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