City and county officials gather in a joint virtual meeting on Friday. Pictured, from the top left, are Robert Hutchinson, Kenneth Cornell, Marihelen Wheeler, Mike Byerly, Charles Chestnut, Gigi Simmons, David Arreola, Reina Saco, Lauren Poe, and Adrian Hayes-Santos, Harvey Ward, and Gail Johnson.

Face Mask Use Won’t Be Enforced With Arrest Or Search, Gainesville And Alachua County Leaders Say

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The Alachua County Commission and Gainesville City Commission held a virtual joint meeting on Friday to discuss various topics including the enforcement of state and county emergency orders.

Enforcement will not include search or arrest for those people not complying with the order to wear face masks in public places, Mayor Lauren Poe said.

Still, civil penalties for violators could be on the way after city commissioners on Thursday moving forward with an emergency ordinance on that front. Its first reading is next Thursday and a second reading is set for June.

Robert Swain from the County Attorney’s office said “a violation of the face covering section of the order is a non-criminal infraction,” confirming that it does not authorize the search or arrest of any individual prior to issuing a citation. Before citations are issued, Swain said, people will be asked to comply or given the opportunity to explain any personal exemption.

County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson added that there have been no arrests or citations given out for violating the face mask order.

In discussing the face mask order and the enforcement of it, City Commissioner Gail Johnson brought up the issue of racial inequity.

“I have had multiple mothers tell me … I am not going to be sending my black son to the post office in a face mask” Johnson said. She wants the city to create and deploy a COVID-19 racial equity toolkit to ensure decisions are not being made without considering impacts to people of color.

Ben Howort, the city’s equity specialist, joined the call and explained the toolkit as a multipage document for city leaders that asks questions about policy and procedure, what areas of equity may be impacted, what benefits and burdens can occur for different groups and how those burdens can be reduced.

Some racial equity impacts include the potential of using the new ordinance as a way to target people of color in Alachua County for not wearing face masks, Howort said.

Teneeshia Marshall, director of the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity, said her office has ordered 1,000 masks for Gainesville police officers so they can give them to those people they interact with who don’t have one.

For the more complicated issues raised by COVID-19 — like when businesses can fully reopen, what social distancing measures will be enforced in the coming months, and what impacts can be expected in the long term — the solutions are still unknown.

“There’s just a lot of questions,” Poe said, “ that don’t have answers — yet.”

About Allison Veliz

Allison is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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