Jacksonville passes mandatory mask order weeks before Republican National Convention

The city of Jacksonville, where President Trump is anticipated to accept the Republican nomination later this summer in his bid for re-election, enacted a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations.

The requirement begins at 5 p.m. Monday and requires masks “in other situations where individuals cannot socially distance.”

This is a reversal on the part of city leaders and sets an interesting stage for Republicans and President Donald Trump, who decided to move the convention's nominating party to Florida after governor in the previous location — North Carolina — refused to guarantee the event could be held in Charlotte without restrictions because of ongoing concerns over the coronavirus.

It's unclear if Jacksonville's mask mandate will still be in place by the time of the GOP convention in August. No end date for the mask-wearing requirement was announced.

On June 23, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican and avid supporter of the president, said he didn’t plan to issue a mask mandate and had urged people to wear masks and to socially distance themselves. Curry, who was not in attendance at a Monday news conference due to family obligations, could not be reached for comment.

Related: Jacksonville preparing to host thousands during this year's Republican National Convention

“We continue to urge everybody, please practice personal responsibility, do your part to please help stop the spread of this virus,” said city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton.

She said city leaders reached the decision to require masks after consulting local health officials and that penalties for noncompliance were under discussion.

A group of nearly 500 Florida-based doctors — many from northeast Florida — signed an open letter to Curry calling for the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville to be postponed. The letter, which was given to Curry over the weekend, also urged officials to mandate masks.

“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. The RNC should be postponed or very significantly reduced in numbers because of these risks,” the open letter states.

On Monday morning, more than 300 cars lined up for testing at the TIAA Bank Field, where the Jaguars play football.

About 5,800 total cases of coronavirus have been reported in Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, and 64 deaths.

The Republican event is scheduled to be held in Jacksonville in late August. The Republican National Committee picked Jacksonville for the political spectacle after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, wouldn’t give in to the president’s insistence that large gathering be held without social distancing measures.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked about the move Monday.

“We’ve advised from the beginning of May about situations where that would be appropriate, but we’ve left it to the locals about whether they want to use coercive measures or impose any criminal penalties," he said.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held in Jacksonville on Aug. 25, 26 and 27 at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena, which holds 15,000 people.

During a daily briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about the Jacksonville order and whether Trump’s thinking about wearing a mask changed at all, given the vote in Jacksonville and given increased virus cases in Fl, AZ and elsewhere.

McEnany said she had talked to the president before the briefing to get his thinking and “it’s the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not. He encourages people to make whatever decision is best for their safety but he did say to me he has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you."