HomeLocal governmentCounty commission votes unanimously to extend mask mandate and begin enforcement; Governor’s office says order is invalid
County commission votes unanimously to extend mask mandate and begin enforcement; Governor’s office says order is invalid
September 7, 2021
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
At today’s Special Meeting, the Alachua County Commission voted to extend the indoor mask mandate another 7 days and to begin enforcing it.
During his presentation, Paul Myers, Alachua County Administrator for the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), provided some context to recent media reports about how FDOH reports deaths to the CDC. He said that FDOH has reported COVID-19 death data to the CDC by county of residence since March 2020, but the CDC site shows deaths by where the person died. “Now that’s problematic for Alachua County because when I went to the CDC website today, they’re reporting 864 deaths in Alachua County. That is about two and a half times the number I have in our databases here… When you have a regional hospital system, such as UF Health and North Florida Regional… if they pass away in Alachua County, the CDC is counting those deaths in Alachua County.”
Myers said he knew how many people have died with COVID-19 in Alachua County, but “I hesitate to give you an exact number, just because the number tends to fluctuate on a weekly basis… the number is north of 340, but it’s less than 350.”
Commission Chair Ken Cornell asked why the number of deaths is not reported weekly to the public, and Myers responded, “We know a lot more about this disease now than we did when it first started, and so I think that there is a need to know and a want to know, so that’s the only way that I can really describe it to you. We know right now that we’re in the post-vaccine era. We know what is very effective at preventing disease. We know how to treat this disease. And so the department has shifted from a need-to-know to a want-to-know; that’s the best way I can characterize it without getting into the statutes and the interpretation of what is not considered to be a public record.”
Myers said cases and positivity rate are trending down and that the health department is “a bit behind” in entering negative tests, so positivity rate will drop even lower when those tests are entered. “The positive tests are far outnumbered by the negative tests, so that 11.7% number in actually is a bit lower.”
Adult hospitalizations peaked in mid-August at 453 and are down to about 300. Pediatric hospitalizations have dropped from 16 to 5.
In response to a question from Commissioner Mary Alford, Myers said the monoclonal antibody administration site in High Springs is averaging over 150 patients a day.
Cornell told Acting Deputy County Manager Carl Smart that he’d heard some anecdotal reports about people not wearing masks in various places. Smart said the code enforcement staff has been getting the signs out to businesses and letting them know that the signs are now required and that they need to encourage their employees and customers to wear masks indoors. Smart said, “We are at the point where enforcement is needed.” He said that code enforcement officers are now going back to businesses to verify that the signs were posted. Alachua County is working with the City of Gainesville to coordinate enforcement.
“I feel like we don’t have a cohesive approach to this, to the point where we’re going to be trying to stick our fingers in the holes in the dike, and the thing is going to flow over the top of us.” – Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler
Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said she was concerned that in pictures from the UF football game on Saturday, “not one person was wearing a mask… I feel like we don’t have a cohesive approach to this, to the point where we’re going to be trying to stick our fingers in the holes in the dike, and the thing is going to flow over the top of us… With the governor working against us, I don’t know how we can do this well… I think it’s important that the businesses enforce this… How can we actually enforce collecting a fine when the governor is saying, ‘No, no, no. You don’t get to do that’? So I feel like we’ve kind of put ourselves in a corner here.”
Commissioner Anna Prizzia asked how much opportunity there is to work with the University of Florida. County Attorney Sylvia Torres said UF is part of the State University System and Santa Fe College is part of the State College System, and they’re governed by the Board of Governors. She said she had been reading through the statutes, and “there’s nothing in the statutes that says our emergency orders cannot impact the university or the state college system. There are a couple exemptions—for instance, zoning, taxation—so our read of it is that if they’re specifically exempted, there’s an argument that other things are not… The question at this point is if you want to go there.” She requested time to have a conversation with the university.
Prizzia said she would like to see masks required at the stadium at the Alabama game. “I would at least like to hear what’s possible.”
Cornell said he was fine with writing a citation if a business hasn’t put up a sign when code enforcement goes back for a second visit. He said code enforcement should then return every day and write another citation (the fines increase with each citation) until they comply. “Most folks, if you ask them to put on a mask, they put one on.” He said he wasn’t interested in chasing people to their car, but code enforcement should catch them on the way into a business.
“I thought we were partners in all of this. I thought the school board, the City, the university, Santa Fe, I thought we were all partners in this, and if we’re not all partners and they’re not gonna follow our guidelines, what’s the purpose?” – Commissioner Chuck Chestnut
Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said, “I thought we were partners in all of this. I thought the school board, the City, the university, Santa Fe, I thought we were all partners in this, and if we’re not all partners and they’re not gonna follow our guidelines, what’s the purpose?… If we give out an order and it’s a local order, we do expect our partners to follow those orders… We’re trying to do the right thing, and we’re just asking our partners to do the right thing, too, even though it’s not popular. You do the right thing, and it’s about protecting people and making sure people don’t die from this virus… I have realized that we’re in a society now about self and not about others. And I’m about others. I’m not about self. Being about others, I want to protect others and protect their rights, too. They have rights just like those who don’t want to wear masks, don’t want to get vaccinated… I’m sorry that UF is following the Board of Governors, but I thought we were partners locally to try to protect our citizens and students.”
Chestnut said his impression had been that they would check for masks and vaccines at the game, but checking vaccination status would actually be illegal under state law.
Prizzia said she was very concerned about the weekend after next, with both the Alabama game and Gatorback in the same weekend. Prizzia made a motion to renew the emergency order and emergency action for 7 days and move to the enforcement phase with regards to businesses that aren’t putting up signs or allowing their employees to wear a mask; she added a request to send a Chair letter to the university and Santa Fe College, asking them to put a mask order in place on their campuses. Wheeler seconded the motion. This will be the fourth week of the six-week limit that is permitted by law on local orders. The last possible day of the mandate would be September 30.
The vote to approve the motion was 5-0, with Alford voting remotely.
Governor’s staff members say the order is invalid
Governor DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw has repeatedly asserted that Alachua County’s orders are not valid. She issued the following statement, “Under Florida Statutes Section 252 and Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 21-101, Alachua County does not have the legal authority to declare such local emergency and it is invalid as a matter of law. On May 3, 2021 Governor DeSantis signed into law SB 2006, which provides that any emergency order issued by a political subdivision may be invalidated by the Governor, at any time, if the Governor determines that such order unnecessarily restricts individual rights or liberties pursuant to section 252.38, Florida Statutes (2021). Accordingly, Governor DeSantis issued EO 21-101 which invalidated any emergency order issued by a political subdivision due to the COVID-19 emergency. And even in the absence of such order, Alachua County is not able to issue on its own a local state of emergency for a pandemic.” She added on Twitter: “Businesses that do not enforce #Alachua mask mandates will not be penalized either. The local order IS NOT VALID under the law.”
Kyle Lamb, who works in the governor’s communications office, added on Twitter: “SB 2006 says that once an emergency order expires (or is invalidated), a political subdivision ‘may not issue a substantially similar order.’ Effective July 1, by way of E.O. 21-101, the Governor invalidated all remaining COVID-19 orders. Alachua is not in compliance.”
County employee vaccination update
County Human Resources Director Heather Akpan gave an update on employee vaccinations. Akpan said 25% of employees are unvaccinated and about 9% are partially vaccinated. Weekly testing is required for unvaccinated employees, about 437 per week. 72 tests were scheduled for today, but only 47 people tested today, possibly because the list went out late on Friday. Akpan said there are 3 people who have refused to be tested, “so we are going to be dealing with that.” She said that they “had to get corrective actions” to 15 people who refused to attest to their vaccination status and that they are now pretty close to 100% who have attested to their status. County Manager Michele Lieberman said that refusing testing is considered insubordination.
Please log in again.
The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.