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Marion Commission shuts down internet cafes and entertainment venues

Marion County commissioners have agreed to shut down all internet cafes and similar entertainment venues amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The ordinance, which comes with the possibility of $500 fines for those who ignore it, was approved Thursday during an emergency meeting as the five county commissioners, county staff and those in the audience all practiced social distancing. The ordinance is designed to be an extension of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent executive order shutting down bars, nightclubs and restaurant dining rooms.

Kathy Bryant

In addition to internet cafes, the ordinance calls for the closure of arcades, gaming venues connected with horse tracks, bingo halls, bowling alleys, casinos, indoor climbing facilities, skating rinks, trampoline parks, movie theaters, music and public entertainment venues and other similar recreational facilities. Hookah lounges, cigar bars and vaping lounges also are included with regards to on-site consumption of products. Those businesses can, however, allow their products to be sold for off-site consumption, much as restaurants still are allowed to sell takeout orders.

Drive-in theaters, like the one in Ocala where churches are holding services, aren’t included in the ordinance. Neither are businesses like retail stores, drug stores, grocery stores and minimarts.

The measure also requires that no person except a facility owner or no more than two of his or her representatives may be within or on the premises of the venues. No patrons, guests or additional facility employees or operators can be in the facilities.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods

A long discussion ensued during the meeting about internet cafes. Sheriff Billy Woods said the ordinance couldn’t be broad or it would be difficult for his deputies to enforce. He said his office has had multiple issues with internet cafes in the past. And he encouraged all municipalities within the county to adhere to the ordinance, even though those government agencies have the ability to opt out of the measure.

Belleview city leaders said they would support the ordinance, while Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn said the City Council would have to meet soon to decide whether to enact it. That prompted Woods to reiterate his stance that all cities within the county need to participate for the ordinance to be a success.

The initial order called for the measure to go into effect Friday, March 27 at 5 p.m. Commission Chairman Kathy Bryant pointed out that Marion County has considerably less COVID-19 patients – five as of late Thursday afternoon – than surrounding counties and pushed for the measure to go into effect Thursday at 7 p.m., which the commission agreed to do.

“They need to be shut down now,” Bryant said. “They don’t need to be able to go on one more night, because we do not want to see community spread in Marion County. That’s why we stopped large groups from gathering.”

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