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Monday, May 10, 2021

Alachua County commission pulls back mask mandate for vaccinated residents

The commission may rescind the mandate altogether in businesses

<p>Denise Garcia and Jeffery Davis wear face masks in downtown Gainesville.</p>

Denise Garcia and Jeffery Davis wear face masks in downtown Gainesville.

The Alachua County Commission has relaxed its mask and social-distancing guidelines for vaccinated residents.

At a meeting Tuesday, the county commission unanimously approved an emergency order signed by Commission Chair Ken Cornell Monday night. Following the approval, residents who have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can visit unvaccinated residents in private without wearing masks or socially distancing.

The county will not require residents to present proof of vaccination in enforcing this order.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that we need to be asking folks for vaccination cards,” Cornell said. “That’s a private decision.”

Masks will still be mandatory in businesses, but the next step to loosen restrictions will be making masks optional in local shops and restaurants.

The county hasn’t issued any mask citations to businesses since its mandate began on June 25, Cornell said.

Tuesday’s vote followed a presentation from Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers. He said positive cases are trending much lower than in previous months.

The county’s positivity rate has stayed below 2% during the past two weeks with 10 reported deaths, Myers said.

One-fourth of county residents have received their first dose of the vaccine as of Monday.

This is the fourth major emergency order from the county since the onset of the pandemic, Deputy County Attorney Bob Swain said. 

The county’s first order in April put forth a stay at home order and closed all non-essential businesses. In May, the county loosened some restrictions, but mandated social distancing, face masks and occupancy limits in businesses. 

Cornell said the most recent emergency order, which outlined the county mask mandate, had been in effect since October and did not reflect the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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“It is my intention to keep this economy open,” he said. “But also keep the community safe.”

On Feb. 26, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis extended his order declaring a state of emergency until April 27. Alachua County’s order follows the governor’s timeline, Cornell said.

The county’s latest order expires on May 12, or until the county lifts the state of emergency that has been in place since March 13, 2020.

The commission will meet again on April 13 to discuss lifting the mask mandate for businesses. If it chooses this direction, mask requirements will be up to the discretion of businesses within the county.

“This has been a very, very long trip,” Cornell said. “I think we’re in the last mile.”

Contact Jack Prator at jprator@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @jack_prator.

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Jack Prator

Jack is a UF journalism sophomore covering the Gainesville City Commission. If he's not in a hammock at the plaza he is probably watching the Queen's Gambit for the fifth time. 


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