JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville, where the Republican National Committee moved the party’s convention so President Donald Trump could accept the GOP nomination in a packed arena, announced Monday that it is requiring face masks in public and indoor locations.
City officials said they haven’t decided whether to require masks during the convention, which is scheduled Aug. 24-27. The policy also applies to anyone else who can’t socially distance. The mask order goes into effect Monday evening.
The RNC backed out of Charlotte, North Carolina, this month and picked Jacksonville as the main site for the convention after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles wouldn't commit to allowing a full convention because of health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The move by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican who pushed for the convention and has opposed a mask mandate, comes as Florida has become one of the new epicenters in the coronavirus outbreak.
The state announced 8,530 new coronavirus cases Sunday, marking the third straight day of more than 8,000 new cases in the state.
An RNC spokesperson said the committee is "committed to holding a safe convention that fully complies with local health regulations in place at the time," noting that the event is still two months away. The spokesperson said the RNC has a "good working relationship" with Jacksonville and Florida leaders and will continue to coordinate with them ahead of the convention.
Face masks have become a flashpoint in the political fight surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Although medical experts advise the public to wear them to prevent the spread of the virus, Trump has not worn masks publicly. Crowds at his first two large public events events since the coronavirus outbreak began, a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and a gathering in Phoenix, included some people who wore masks but thousands who didn’t.
At 5 p.m. today, the City of Jacksonville will be adopting a mandatory mask requirement for public & indoor locations, and in other situations where individuals cannot socially distance.— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) June 29, 2020
Please continue to practice personal responsibility to help stop the spread of this virus. pic.twitter.com/dcAuolVMyZ
Trump’s election opponent, Democrat Joe Biden, said last week that he would use federal powers to require face masks in public.
The RNC chose Jacksonville before Florida’s surge in coronavirus cases. In retreating from Charlotte, the RNC cited North Carolina's social distancing rule that prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people in a room. Trump and Republican have sought a "full convention" – one that would allow Trump to address an arena full of supporters like he did four years ago in Cleveland.
The RNC's party business will remain in Charlotte, but officials are planning for the “celebration,” including Trump’s acceptance speech, to take place in Jacksonville.
How Jacksonville plans to enforce the new measure remains unclear.
Curry spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said city officials are still finalizing the plan. Kimbleton said the city’s Naval Air Station’s recent decision to make masks mandatory, as well as consultation with local health care leaders, played a role in the city’s decision.
Curry was not present at a news conference announcing the new policy. His chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury, said he had an “important family commitment.”
Jacksonville remains in Phase 2 of the reopening guidelines established by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Restrictions limit capacity of auditoriums, entertainment venues and restaurants and bars to 50% of capacity.
Florida Times-Union staff writer Christopher Hong contributed to this report. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: RNC: Jacksonville, where Trump will speak, is now requiring masks