Gainesville leaders propose mandate to fine restaurant / bar owners for un-masked patrons

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Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 6:07 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Bar and restaurant owners in Gainesville may soon be fined if their patrons are not following mask orders or other COVID safety measures.

In a vote 4-3 on Thursday night, commissioners pushed a proposal for an executive order similar to Hillsborough County -- where police are imposing fines starting at $150 on businesses not following COVID-19 safety measures.

The proposal comes following commissioners’ frustrations about bars packed with university students, in particular, not following COVID safety guidelines. While commissioners against the decision voiced concerns about the financial burden these businesses have already faced, those in favor believe the new rule could influence bar owners to be more strict with enforcing the measures in their own business.

“We have a lot of cases right now and it is headed in an OK direction. Really everyone is feeling burned out over the distancing and over masks but we can’t give up ... because there is still a lot of people whose health is at risk,” said City Commissioner David Arreola.

Arreola says he personally has been keeping in touch with several bar and restaurant owners in support during the pandemic. He says while many are following COVID rules, there are a select few who have not-- and that’s who they hope they reach with this possible new mandate.

As of right now, there are no specifics as to what price the fine would be or the details of the enforcement. Arreola said he doesn’t see too many fines being given.

Some bar owners say they are curious how the mandate will be enforced.

“I don’t have a huge problem with it but I think it is going to be difficult to enforce ... customers who are seated and drinking, in my place, would have their masks off. There is very little time they have their masks on once they are inside and seated and within their rights to have their mask off,” said the owner of Madrina’s, TJ Palmieri.

There is currently no timeline for when this mandate could go into place. There is a possibility that it is enforced Super Bowl weekend.

In the end, city manager Lee Feldman will have the final decision on what mandate is put forward.

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