The Alachua County Commission unanimously voted to double the number of people enforcing the county’s mask requirement from 4 to 8 Tuesday afternoon.
The decision reassigned the county's four solid waste code enforcers to instead impose the county's face mask ordinance, said County Manager Michele Lieberman. The ordinance requires employees and customers to wear a face covering in places where social distancing isn’t possible, such as retail stores. People with medical conditions or disabilities that make it difficult to wear a mask are exempt from the requirement.
The solid waste code enforcers normally enforce waste related codes that prevent the dumping of junk on lawns and regulate trash pickup. They will now spend time stationed outside of businesses to ensure that customers and employees are wearing face coverings, Lieberman said.
Lieberman said code enforcers will focus on areas that receive the highest volume of complaints about order compliance from county residents.
“If we receive a lot of complaints about Walmart, they’ll go to Walmart,” Lieberman said.
People who do not comply will be issued a warning by code enforcers that include an explanation of the mask requirement. Tuesday’s vote also requires businesses in the county to post signs at entrances with information about the face mask and social distancing requirements.
Commissioner Mike Byerly, who has previously opposed the mask requirement, raised concerns about the requirement’s enforceability. He said that he believes the medical exception is open to misuse by people who would falsely claim to have a medical condition to get out of wearing a mask, which makes the requirement difficult to enforce.
Byerly also said he was concerned that reassigning people to enforce the mask ordinance will lead to neglect in other areas of county code.
“We are going to be doing substantially less enforcement of our code everywhere else,” Byerly said, adding that he doesn’t know the consequences of not having waste code enforcers enforce other county codes.
County Commissioner Ken Cornell agreed with Byerly’s concern about the enforcement of county code but said the commission will revisit their assignment of code enforcers in a month.
The decision to strengthen face mask enforcement came after a presentation earlier in the meeting from Paul Myers, an administrator for the county health department. Myers said 3.2 percent of COVID-19 tests over the past two weeks have been positive, which is an increase from the 2.17 percent average throughout the pandemic.
Myers said the increase was concerning, but not surprising, because positive cases have increased along with testing increases. He said 16,252 people have been tested so far this month–3,000 more than the whole month of May.
The number of people aged 15 to 24 testing positive has also increased, Myers said. He also said he’s talked to UF officials about encouraging students to practice social distancing. UF plans on requiring students to wear masks while inside campus facilities.
He didn’t discuss any details further but said he didn’t want to imply that young people weren’t complying to the county’s mask requirement.
“I don’t wanna paint everyone with a broad brush and say that all students are just out partying because that’s not true,” Myers said.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that UF students will be required to wear masks while inside campus facilities. They will not be required to wear masks while outside on campus.