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Alachua Loosens COVID Restrictions For Those Who Have Been Vaccinated

A woman is seen wearing a plaid cloth protective face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A woman is seen wearing a plaid cloth protective face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Commissioners voted unanimously to pass Emergency Order 21-13, which aligns with the CDC's interim public health recommendations.

Alachua County updated its emergency order to allow fully vaccinated people to visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.

With more residents getting vaccinated and decreasing positivity rates, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to pass Emergency Order 21-13, which aligns with the Center of Disease Control’s interim public health recommendations. Mandated masking and social distancing in public areas will remain for both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.

Twenty-five percent of Alachua County’s population had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Monday, with 75% of residents 65 years old and above vaccinated, according to Paul Myers, administrator for the Alachua County Health Department. He said they’ve “almost eliminated” the virus in that age group, with one or two cases on average per day.

Since March 8 there has been a 1.8% positivity rate across the county, with 409 positive cases and 10 deaths.

The percentage of vaccinated people includes those who may have received their vaccine out of the county but used an Alachua County address to register. The board said they are looking into setting up second-dose sites so people don’t have to travel again to be fully vaccinated.

The new order still holds that groups of more than 50 people are not permitted to gather without social distancing or wearing face masks and may be ordered to disperse by law enforcement. However, this does not apply to gatherings of fully vaccinated people and other individuals approved by the CDC to gather with the fully vaccinated.

The original draft of the order stated that individuals enforcing dispersing may ask for proof of vaccination. County Commissioner Ken Cornell clarified that part was removed before he signed it Monday night.

That didn’t stop some Alachua County residents from expressing their qualms with the existing mask mandate and potential for the county to ask for vaccination cards or force vaccinations. The board repeatedly identified these ideas as misinformation and assured residents that COVID-19 vaccines will never be mandatory and proof of vaccination will not be needed when gathering in your own home.

The board was confused by the onslaught of comments about how it should not force vaccinations.

“I think that’s been misinterpreted,” Cornell said. “And I’ve certainly been called some names that are new in the last 48 hours.”

If left untouched, the new order will stay in effect until May 12, 2021. The board agreed to discuss another revision, one that would relax restrictions depending on local data, on April 13, 2021. The discussion could lead to changing the county-wide mask mandate to a recommendation.

Many residents also expressed their concerns about continuing a mask mandate for any longer, while three callers expressed their support for the new order.

“We have not been that hard on masking as we could’ve been,” County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said. “We’ve given zero citations.”

If Gov. Ron DeSantis makes vaccines widely available and local cases continue to decline, Cornell, who got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Monday, said he wants to make masks optional.

“My intention is to keep the economy open but also keep the community safe,” he said. “And that’s certainly a balancing act.”