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Friday, April 16, 2021

Not wearing a face mask in public can now result in a fine.

The Alachua County Commission established a fine for violations of the face mask portion of the county’s COVID-19 emergency order at its Tuesday meeting. The order requires employees and customers in locations where social distancing is not possible, such as retail stores, to wear a face covering.

Violating the order to wear a face mask can result in a fine of $125, County Attorney Sylvia Torres said. Repeat offenders may be charged anywhere from $250 to $500.

Exceptions to the face mask requirement were also broadened.

The original order said that only children aged 2 and under, as well as people with documented respiratory conditions, were exempt from wearing face masks. Now, the exemptions have expanded to include children under 6 and those with “demonstrable” medical conditions, Torres said.

The change will allow people with medical concerns to enter businesses without a mask or a doctor’s note. Someone need only explain that they have a medical condition, Torres said, rather than provide a doctor's note as proof. 

County Commissioner Mike Byerly questioned how the fine can be enforced with the new “demonstrable” condition exception.

“Essentially, Alachua County’s standard will be that ‘If you say you got a problem, then you do. So you don’t have to wear a mask?’” he said.

The order’s enforcement will be left to individual cities, County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said.

Byerly disagreed with the county’s decision to implement fines, because he said he doesn't think there is a clear scientific basis for a face mask requirement. He cited the World Health Organization’s recommendation that healthy people not wear face masks.

“We are way, way, way out on a limb here with what we are doing in Alachua County,” he said.

Contact Tristan at twood@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @TristanDWood.

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