JACKSONVILLE, Fla — As of 5 p.m. Monday, Jacksonville will be joining several Florida cities and adopting a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations.
Nikki Kimbleton, the city's director of public affairs, made the announcement during a news conference Monday afternoon, saying masks will also be required where individuals cannot socially distance.
"Healthcare experts advise that masks and cloth face coverings help slow the spread from individuals with COVID-19 to vulnerable populations, including from those who are asymptomatic... and don't have symptoms," Kimbleton said. "We continue to urge everyone please practice personal responsibility and do your part and please help stop the spread of this virus."
Unlike other Florida cities, Jacksonville's leaders didn't detail how the mask requirement was going to be enforced during the news conference. However, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams did say that without a mask, someone may not be allowed into a business or venue. This includes the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Downtown Jacksonville where the 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) is currently scheduled to take place in August, he alluded.
"We will continue to work on these plans as we get closer [to the RNC]," Williams said.
Currently, the RNC is roughly 60 days away. It is anticipated to bring more than 40,000 people from all over the country to Jacksonville.
Over the past weekend, about 200 Florida doctors signed an open letter to Mayor Lenny Curry -- who wasn't in attendance Monday due to a family event -- saying the RNC is "medically disrespectful to citizens" during the coronavirus pandemic.
"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 said.
Kimbleton noted that Curry's office received the letter Sunday afternoon and that the city will respond "in a timely manner." She also said Curry is in "constant contact" with medical professionals and hospital staff to help him determine decisions the city will take during the pandemic.
"That event, again, is months away," said Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury. "We will continue to monitor data and make informed decisions as time goes on to protect our people, but the policy is in place today."
More testing sites
The city is also working on providing six additional testing sites for Jacksonville residents, as well as mobile testing options.
Kimbleton said the new testing sites will be in Mandarin, the Westside, Arlington, the Northside and throughout the Beaches community. Mobile testing for COVID-19 will be offered in Atlantic, Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches, she said.
Specific locations are expected to be announced in "the upcoming weeks." These new locations will not impact Jacksonville's current testing locations.
Fourth of July celebrations
The City of Jacksonville still plans to hold its annual fireworks celebration, except this year, it will be spread out throughout the city.
Instead of solely shooting fireworks off in Downtown Jacksonville, there will be six locations residents can enjoy the show, making it "the largest firework show in Jacksonville's history," Kimbleton said.
"The people of the city of Jacksonville have been through a lot ... with this pandemic," she said. "Fourth of July has always been a huge celebration here. We didn't want to cancel the fireworks ... We figured the best way to do this was to make it bigger, better and safer," she added.
The firework shows begin at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday.
"We're offering these additional viewing locations to allow residents to celebrate this annual tradition, socially distance, in or near their communities," she said. "Please, if you go to one of the viewing areas, wear a mask, stay six feet apart from others who are not part of your group," she added.
Kimbleton said there are currently no plans to close the beaches over the weekend.
JSO, JFRD update on COVID-19 cases
Williams and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Powers were also in attendance at the news conference where they provided updates on COVID-19 numbers among inmates, deputies and fire crews.
Williams said the number of inmates with COVID-19 is 128 in all three Duval jails, which is 50 people lower than the spike JSO saw of 178 about 10 days ago. Williams added that, as part of the booking process during the pandemic, inmates will be tested and quarantined prior to entering the jails.
"We feel we have a handled on the outbreak at the jail," Williams said.
Williams added that 19 deputies tested positive for COVID-19 and they currently have 70 corrections officers quarantined as a precaution.
Regarding JFRD, Powers said there are 232 fire crews in quarantine. Out of those, 33 of them tested positive for the coronavirus. Powers said he expects more positive cases as the department administers more tests, which includes the 328 COVID-19 tests given to JFRD crews over the weekend.
As a result, JFRD is seeing about 77 vacancies per shift, but even so, Powers said these shifts are being covered by extra personnel and crews volunteering for overtime.
"Without this personnel volunteering, we would struggle with our staffing, so again, I want to say thank you," Powers said.