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Sunday, February 05, 2023

Alachua County is one step closer to returning to business as usual.

The county commission voted unanimously Tuesday to follow Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency order allowing some businesses to operate at full capacity.

DeSantis’ June 3 order limits occupancy of restaurants, bars and entertainment businesses’ occupancy to 50 percent, a limit that applied to all businesses in Alachua County. But now, retail stores and supermarkets can operate at full capacity.

The commission’s vote also allows gatherings of up to 50 people. The county’s original order limited gatherings to under 10 people. Following a 3-2 vote, privately owned and county-run parks and playgrounds will reopen Friday.

Commissioners Marihelen Wheeler and Hutch Hutchinson voted against reopening because they said they believed it was too soon. They instead supported a plan from County Manager Michele Lieberman.

Lieberman proposed to reopen all public and private parks and playgrounds June 22, when all cities in the county would be able to open parks and playgrounds. She said smaller cities needed more time to assemble and train their staff for a reopening with more sanitation efforts because of COVID-19.

“The thinking is that we wouldn’t want to start opening these private playgrounds when the rest of the government is not ready to open our own,” Lieberman said.

After the commission voted to reopen private playgrounds, Lieberman continued to recommend reopening other places June 22.

However, County Commission Ken Cornell made the motion to allow parks to reopen Friday. He also established special conditions for Poe Springs park in High Springs, which can only reopen on the weekends at 50 percent capacity.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly supported Cornell’s motion but said he recognized reopening county parks while city parks remain closed could be confusing to some residents because they don’t know which are run by the city or the county. To Byerly, the confusion wasn't worth delaying park reopenings.

“Frankly, anytime anyone goes anywhere now, they know they have to be prepared to face something new or different,” Byerly said.

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

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