Gov. DeSantis signed an executive order invalidating local emergency COVID-19 orders requiring masks and social distancing around the state, but Alachua County will not be affected by the change.
DeSantis also signed a bill that would make the executive order permanent starting July 1. He signed a separate executive order that prohibits the requirement of vaccine passports for everyday activities and ended Florida’s state of emergency.
A vaccine passport is documentation proving that someone has been vaccinated. Some have discussed the possibility of requiring them to visit certain places.
“In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected, and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision,” a public statement from the Governor’s office read.
Alachua County’s emergency order, which included mandatory masking and restrictions on gatherings, was set to expire May 12. Because the order was already set to expire in a week, Alachua County won’t be drastically affected by the Governor’s orders, Mark Sexton, Alachua County’s communications and legislative affairs director, said.
“We made the transition from mandatory to voluntary masking,” he said. “People in this community are very mindful of the science and CDC recommendations.”
He said he expects people to continue wearing masks indoors, such as in restaurants, bars and gyms where it's recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sexton said businesses can still impose their own masking and social distancing requirements.
“A business can require shoes, shirts and masks,” he said.
Although pandemic policies are easing, Sexton said he wants the community to understand the importance of getting vaccinated and continuing to take precautionary measures.
“It’s still important for all of us to do our part,” he said. “While it has gone from mandatory to voluntary, this pandemic and this virus are very real.”
Jackie Johnson, the director of communications at Alachua County Public Schools, said the orders will not affect any procedures in the public school system for the remainder of the school year. The orders exclude the school system, so public schools in Alachua County do not have to make any changes.
ACPS ended its outdoor facial covering requirement and temperature checks on April 23, and masks will be optional on all ACPS campuses starting this summer.
In an Alachua County commission meeting on May 4, commissioners discussed the possible easing of pandemic protocols during commission meetings.
Because all commissioners are vaccinated, commissioner Kenneth Cornell proposed not requiring masks in commission meetings. He also asked whether the commission wanted to keep offering online access to commission meetings.
All the other commissioners agreed the meetings should continue in a hybrid format, which allows citizens to attend and comment remotely. They urged the importance of requiring masks in the meetings for both citizens and commissioners.
Some residents welcome the easing in the requirements.
Chris Rose II, a 32-year-old swimming pool technician and Alachua County resident, said he doesn’t consider himself an anti-masker. He said he adheres to mask requirements when he can’t avoid them but has boycotted events that require masks.
CDC studies found that face masks can block up from 50% to 70% of droplets exhaled from a person with a mask.
Although he appreciates lawmakers erring on the side of caution, he said he wishes County officials would have made masks a recommendation instead of a requirement.
On the other hand, Violet Vergara, a 71-year-old receptionist and Alachua County resident, thinks the governor’s mask mandate restrictions came too soon.
Vergara said she hopes the city and county continue to make it clear to businesses that they still have an obligation to keep people safe.
“I’ve had both of my vaccinations, and I will continue to wear the mask,” she said. “I do this out of respect for others who may not be vaccinated.”
Contact Alexander Lugo and Joelle Wittig at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter @AlexLugo67 or @JoelleWittig.
Alex is a fourth-year journalism student at UF and is in his third semester at The Alligator where he is serving as the university editor. He previously reported on university administration and the city and county commission. In his free time, he enjoys video games, traveling and being outdoors.