Suwannee County seal

LIVE OAK — The Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners was clear about its direction moving forward into the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: it will follow the directions of the Center for Disease Control and the State of Florida.

At a special called meeting March 17, the board passed a local state of emergency but also unanimously voted to follow CDC and state guidelines when it comes to county-owned facilities.

That vote came near the end of the hour-long meeting amid discussion of the board’s support of the decision to cancel the Suwannee County Fair.

“It’s tough to fight something that you can’t see,” Chairman Len Stapleton said. “That’s the scary part of this. We’re sitting here and we don’t even know if it’s in this room. We’re just trying to do the best we can in tough times.

“We’ll move forward and get through this as a community. Whatever it takes, we’ll do what it takes to make it happen.”

Added Ricky Gamble: “The right decision is often not the popular decision.”

Those comments prompted County Administrator Randy Harris to ask for further clarification as to the board’s wishes moving forward when it comes to the county’s facilities, such as the fairgrounds and parks.

“My message right now is that this board is standing behind the recommendations of the governor and the CDC,” Harris said before asking for the clarification. “I know each of you got phone calls with pressure about that fair. I know that children are disappointed. Like I told someone this morning, children need to experience reality of life lessons. This is an opportunity, an unfortunate one, but it’s an opportunity to teach children a life lesson. Life isn’t easy, sometimes it can be tough and you have to make tough decisions.

“There will be other fairs, hopefully.”

The board also unanimously voted to not hold its first April meeting, instead planning its next scheduled meeting for April 21.

However, the local state of emergency lasts just seven days and will need to be passed again if the board wishes to extend it, so there could potentially be numerous special meetings in the interim.

“I think we should postpone our next board meeting,” District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Richardson said.

One topic that could come up for a vote in one of those potential meetings, Harris said, could be a resolution that closes down or places limits on restaurants, bars and gyms in an effort to help reduce the potential spread of the virus by limiting the groups gathering. Harris said that will depend on orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I think we’re in a good position to act on whatever is necessary,” Stapleton said.

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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