Alachua County officials have cracked down on violations of the countywide COVID-19 emergency order.
The county encourages residents to report violations, such as the operation of non-essential businesses or unsafe workplace conditions, on its online community portal. The measures adhere to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide stay-at-home order that went into effect April 1, said Alachua County spokesperson Mark Sexton.
As of Monday, the county has had 580 reports on the online community portal, 357 of which have been dealt with, Sexton said. The rest are in progress of being addressed.
The online forms, which require informants to submit their name, phone number and email address, are sent to county staff and the county manager’s office, who will then proceed with code enforcement, Sexton said. The county first mentioned the online forms in a March 31 press release.
The statewide order requires local orders to adhere to the state’s list of essential services such as grocery stores, gas stations and hospitals. In Alachua County, the one person for every 1,000 square feet occupancy requirement has been amended to one person for every 750 square feet.
While most reports concern businesses’ status as essential or the lack of enforcement of the local occupancy rule, others include employees concerned with inadequate safety precautions, such as not being allowed to follow social distancing guidelines or wear personal protective gear, Sexton said.
The county is also encouraging workers to anonymously report workplace violations on the county’s 311 hotline. The introduction of the hotline was announced March 16 in a county press release.
Initially, a major issue was restaurants offering dine-in services, but those concerns have diminished as the county has enforced the orders, Sexton said.
The first step to enforce the orders is for city or county officials to call the business with a complaint, he said. If the business is operating and is deemed non-essential, the county orders it to close. For businesses that don’t comply, code enforcement and eventually law enforcement would be called, Sexton said.
Since March 15, Mother’s Pub and Grill’s University Avenue location violated city orders twice. Inspectors were sent to the business and the Gainesville Police Department intervened, ordering the business to close.
On March 18, Crafty Bastards Restaurant and Pub announced a drive-in movie night for upcoming Sundays and Mondays after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared state restaurants to close their dining rooms and only offer takeout or delivery.
The restaurant later posted on Facebook that the event was canceled, citing the City of Gainesville “got their wish.” City spokesperson Rossana Passaniti said the owners complied with local code enforcement after asking them to take down the drive-in screen.
Gatherings of 10 or more people are also considered violations of social distancing orders and can be reported on the online platform or on the hotline, Sexton said. These violations will be handled differently from business-related violations.
Law enforcement only responds to breaking up large gatherings, he said. However, if the violations persist, the individuals involved could be charged with a misdemeanor and bring the issue to court. Sexton said no violation has reached this point yet.
Samia Lagmis contributed to this report.
Contact Grethel Aguila at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GrethelAguila.