Florida RNC Host City Mandates Masks in Public

Some Florida counties are closing beaches during the Fourth of July weekend amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

People wait in line at a mask distribution event Friday in a Covid-19 hotspot of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CN) — Jacksonville, the new site for President Donald Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention, became the latest Florida municipality Monday to require the use of face masks in public as Covid-19 cases continue to climb in the Sunshine State.

City officials made the announcement on Monday, just a week after Republican Mayor Lenny Curry told reporters the city would not mandate the use of masks.

“From the beginning of this, we’ve been asking people to exercise personal responsibility,” Jordan Elsbury, the mayor’s chief of staff, said during a press conference. “Beginning months ago, the mayor began asking people to wear a mask when you’re in public and in public places. As for the city’s recent adoption of the masks — look, every single day almost we have conversations with hospital providers and CEOs and other members of our community, and we felt it was time to take this step.”

Florida recorded 5,266 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, according to the state’s Department of Health. The number of new cases dropped from Saturday’s high of 9,585, but health officials acknowledge testing was also down across the state.

Most concerning is the positivity rate among those tested. Of the more than 41,000 tested on Sunday, 15.7% were positive. That rate has risen slightly over the last week.

The death rate has remained steady with 28 new deaths reported Monday.

After days of increased cases, state officials suspended the on-site consumption of alcohol at bars on Friday.

The most populous counties in South Florida — Broward and Miami-Dade — have the most new cases, but other cities like Jacksonville have also seen sharp rises.  

Earlier this month, Republican National Convention organizers decided to move many of the main events, including Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Aug. 27, to Jacksonville after North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper wanted to put restrictions on the number of attendees and require the use of face masks.

Over the weekend, 200 Florida doctors sent a letter to Jacksonville’s mayor, urging him to postpone the RNC and mandate the use of the masks immediately.

“Allowing this number of people to descend on Jacksonville is unequivocally provocative of disease, predictably harmful, and medically disrespectful to the citizens of this city, much less the rest of the country,” the letter, posted to local TV news site, said. “It is extremely dangerous and contrary to current public health recommendations to stage a large event in an area where the number of cases is surging.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Elsbury said there is no plan to postpone the event.

“As it relates to the RNC, that event is months away. We’ll continue to monitor data and make informed decisions as time goes on to protect our people, but the policy is in place today,” he said.

Cities in every part of the state began mandating face masks, some as early as June 21, as cases began to rise by thousands every day.

In addition to face masks rules, some counties also announced the closure of beaches during the Fourth of July weekend.

Beaches in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties will close Friday through Sunday.

“We will always put the public health first and foremost,” Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner told reporters Monday. “I don’t mean to demean or make light of the fact that our beaches won’t be accessible during the Fourth of July weekend, a day that we celebrate our country and our patriotism, but sometimes we have to make sacrifices.”

Jacksonville will not follow suit.

“At this time we have no plans to close the beaches on the Fourth of July,” said city spokesperson Nikki Kimbleton.

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