As more and more Floridians get vaccinated each day, some local governments are considering pulling back mask mandates.
The Alachua County Commission is one of them and could vote on May 12 to adjust county mandates, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said. With that date under a month away, the Gainesville City Commission on Thursday discussed whether the city would make any adjustments to the current COVID-19 guidelines.
Alachua County Commission recently added revisions to its COVID-19 guidelines, but these haven’t yet included changes in mask mandates. Revisions were added that say individuals who enforce the COVID-19 guidelines cannot ask for vaccination verification from residents.
This follows a change that allows residents to gather without masks if all attendees are fully vaccinated.
Following these changes, county leaders asked the city to consider putting in place its own mandate if the county removes its version, City Manager Lee Feldman said.
Paul Myers, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, said he thinks Gainesville is making progress in flattening the curve, despite an increase of cases in January.
Since then, hospitalizations have gone down significantly, Myers said, and over 82% of Alachua County’s 65 and older residents have been vaccinated.
For the last three weeks, COVID-19 positivity rate has hovered around 3%, Myers said.
City Commissioner David Arreola said he’s in full support of maintaining a mask mandate in Gainesville — even if the county gets rid of them. He also wants to continue making efforts to get as many residents vaccinated as possible.
“We need to continue to be very assertive in how we reach out to minority populations,” he said.
Dr. Michael Lauzardo with UF Health also spoke on the rate of positive cases and how vaccinations are going so far. Lauzardo said he is optimistic that it’s possible to return to normal as soon as early summer.
“I’m excited about the idea of full football stadiums in the fall, and I think those are all things that are within our grasp,” Lauzardo said.
He said that while he’s very proud of what Gainesville has done so far, there is still some heavy lifting to do.
“At the end of the day, everything hinges on our ability to vaccinate and have people understand why we’re doing that,” Lauzardo said.
As of Thursday, one out of three Gainesville residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine and one out of four had received both doses.
Lauzardo said he believes Gainesville should continue with mask mandates until the daily local cases consistently decrease to under 10.
There isn’t a magic number of vaccinations for COVID-19 rates to go down, Lauzardo said, but it will probably happen when 70% of Gainesville residents are vaccinated.
“We have control over when this ends,” he said, “and it has to do with how we can communicate the importance of vaccination.”