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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to take farmers markets off the list of activities prohibited last month when the commission unanimously established a local state of emergency.

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The state of emergency was established as part of local efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19, the serious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

The commission voted while conducting their meeting via the Zoom videoconferencing tool. Zoom has become a popular platform for holding meetings as people work from home as a consequence of shelter-in-place strategies to halt the spread of COVID-19.

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Conducting public meetings via videoconferencing is allowed under an executive order signed last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis, as a means of limiting public gatherings.

Walton County’s Zoom meetings include provisions for the public to watch and offer comment. Instructions for joining the county’s Zoom meetings are available on the county’s website, https://www.co.walton.fl.us/.

The commission’s action with regard to farmers markets came just days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive “stay at home” order aimed at keeping people indoors except for limited recreation and essential activities.

DeSantis’ order, set to remain in place until at least April 30, specifically defines farmers markets as an essential service.

“There’s plenty of evidence that shows that they (farmers markets) still have to maintain the social distancing and do the things that are prudent to keep people from gathering in large gatherings,” Walton County Administrator Larry Jones told commissioners.

Also speaking on the issue Tuesday was Diane Kolopanas, owner and operator of 30A Farmers’ Markets, a group of farmers markets held throughout the area, including outside of Walton County.

Kolapanas told commissioners Tuesday that vendors at her farmers markets are abiding by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on COVID-19. Vendor tents are placed between six and 10 feet apart, workers wear gloves, wash stations and hand sanitizers are available, and the public is not allowed to touch items for sale.

Commissioner Trey Nick, who recently visited a 30A Farmers’ Market in neighboring Okaloosa County, praised Kolapanas’ efforts Tuesday, telling his colleagues, “I did not feel (as if I was) contacting the virus at all.”

Prior to their vote, commissioners consulted Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, who along with his deputies is responsible for enforcing the array of local ordinances and state orders aimed at controlling COVID-19.

“I think, done the right way, following the guidelines, that’s something we could support,” the sheriff said just before commissioners voted to remove farmers markets from the list of locally prohibited activities.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners voted to extend the local state of emergency another seven days, a requirement included in the original emergency declaration, adopted March 16.

At the time the commission took its Tuesday action, there were 29 positive COVID-19 cases in the county, in Santa Rosa Beach, Miramar Beach, Freeport, DeFuniak Springs and Laurel Hill, according to Holly Holt, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Walton County.

In other developments Tuesday, Sheriff Adkinson briefly addressed a federal judge’s Monday rejection of legal action by some beachfront property owners. The action was aimed against a county ordinance, enacted as part of the local emergency declaration, to close both public and private beaches as a means of helping to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The ruling, Adkinson said, is “certainly positive news in our ability to carry out … the ordinance.”

According to the sheriff, voluntary compliance with the beach closures has “with the exception of one or two addresses,” been good.

And in fact, Adkinson said, “people are calling us about it, and sending pictures when they see people” walking on the beach.

There has been some problem, Adkinson said, with people camping along the boardwalks fronting some beaches across the county, but it’s not a major concern.

“People aren’t gathering up there,” he said.

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