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The Alachua County Commission reinstated its previous face covering and occupancy limit requirements—six hours after voting to repeal these measures.

Alachua County Commissioners voted 4-1 to reinstate the face mask requirement of its May 4 emergency order during a Tuesday evening joint meeting with the Gainesville City Commission after voting 3-2 Tuesday morning to remove the requirement. 

During public comment, residents called in to discuss the county commission’s second face mask vote of the day. Some residents were glad the commission was reconsidering its earlier decision.

“We do not have a vaccine, so now is not the time to be gambling with public health,” a caller said. 

However, other residents voiced their frustration with the commission.  

“Just because the city commission bullies you, now you flip flop and change your vote,” another caller said.

The county commissioners’ change of heart came after Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos motioned to make face coverings mandatory in Gainesville. All seven city commissioners said they would support an order making face coverings mandatory in Gainesville.

In response to the city commission, County Commissioner Ken Cornell said he would reconsider his vote to end the mask requirement.

“If seven of you are asking us to reconsider it, that means something to me,” Cornell said. “I think there is a problem with us being on a different side of the fence than seven of our city commissioners.” 

When the county commissioners voted, County Commissioner Mike Byerly was the only one opposed to reinstating the mask requirement. He said he did not believe the face masks were contributing to a decrease COVID-19 cases because of the World Health Organization’s recommendation that healthy people not wear face coverings.

“If we are in a good spot right now, it doesn’t have anything to do with mandatory face masks,” Byerly said.

The face mask requirement wasn’t the only policy reversed. The county commission also voted Tuesday morning to change its business occupancy limit from 50 percent capacity to one person per 500 square feet. This decision was also reversed Tuesday evening back to the county’s previous 50 percent capacity requirement.

Only two county commissioners, Mike Byerly and Robert Hutchinson, voted against changing the occupancy requirement. Byerly said keeping the requirement to one person per 500 square feet would be more effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 than requiring face masks.

Cornell, who supported the return of the mask requirement and the 50 percent capacity change, said the requirements provide a compromise that helps businesses and protect citizens. 

“I don’t always agree with all of your positions, but I will certainly always listen to them, and same with the public,” Cornell said to his fellow commissioners.

Contact Tristan at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TristanDWood.