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Jax Businesses, Cultural Groups Move Forward Following Mayor Lifting Mask Mandate

Masks will continue to be required at the Florida Theatre for the foreseeable future.
Florida Theatre
Masks will continue to be required at the Florida Theatre for the foreseeable future.

Now that Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has lifted Duval County’s mask mandate, the question becomes: what’s next?Some area businesses and community cultural organizations are making it clear that masks and social distancing aren’t going away anytime soon.

More than 20 cultural organizations – including WJCT Public Media – issued a joint statement saying they will maintain their COVID-19 protocols for the time being.

The group, which includes a wide range of participants (a full list is at the bottom of this story), range from the Florida Theatre to the Riverside Arts Market. The group’s statement reads in part:

We recognize that we have a duty of care to those who enter our institutions, and participate in our programs. Continuing our COVID-19 protocols is necessary at this time to protect the health and safety of our employees, volunteers, artists, and audience members.
The COVID-19 protocols of each organization may vary, but they contain common elements such as temperature checks, requiring masks, and social distancing measures.

At WJCT Public Media, which hosted a wide variety of public events at its broadcasting facility next to Metropolitan Park before the pandemic, a phased reopening is underway.

“WJCT Public Media continues to maintain social distancing, mask wearing and other protocols within its facilities, and plans to continue doing so as it gradually opens to visitors and public events over the next weeks and months,” said WJCT President and CEO David McGowan.

Limited public events have resumed in what Geri Cirillo, Senior Vice President of Development/Corporate Marketing, described as between phase one and phase two. In phase one of WJCT’s building reopening, the station's policy limits public gatherings to 25% of capacity, while phase two allows up to 50% capacity. In both phases, masks and social distancing are still required.

Phase three would up the allowed capacity to 75%, while still requiring masks and social distancing. “We have installed a new ultra-violet irradiation system in our building at 100 Festival Park Avenue as part of our efforts to ensure the safety of our staff and guests,” McGowan said, adding that WJCT will continue to use federal, state and city data guidelines to shape its policies going forward.

Related: WJCT Events Calendar

Movie theatres have also started a phased reopening across the country. Regal Theatres has announced it will reopen its Regal Avenues Jacksonville location on May 7 and reopen its Regal River City Marketplace location on May 14.

Regal’s guests will be required to wear a face mask at all times, with the exception of while eating and drinking. Regal said it’s increasing its fresh air intake by 50%-100% above normal levels and is maintaining two empty seats between groups.

Related: Regal Theatres Safety Guidelines

Chef Tom Gray, of Prati Italia at the Markets at Town Center and the Town Hall in San Marco, said Tuesday on First Coast Connect with Melissa Rossthat he’s seeing customers return to his restaurants but is still keeping safety in mind.

“From the safety standpoint, we created all new protocols immediately. And one of the things we did was we observed electrostatic disinfecting in the buildings and we went out and bought that equipment. And we do that ourselves multiple times a week to keep the buildings disinfected surfaces, you know, gloves, etc, You know, things like that. So we are not backing off on those protocols.”

Mayor Curry allowed Duval County’s mask mandate to expire last week, but still encouraged everyone to wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible.

“This action demonstrates that we are another step closer to getting back to normal, but we are not there yet,” he said. “I encourage citizens to continue to take personal responsibility and make choices that they feel best protect themselves, their loved ones, and neighbors. Wear a mask when you can’t social distance, wash your hands frequently and, if you are eligible, I encourage you to get the vaccine,” Curry said, according to WJCT News partner News4Jax.

The same day, the mayor also said he was looking forward to seeing the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, retweeting a UFC post that said the event sold out in minutes. At an announced capacity of 15,000 people, it is expected to be the first sold out, full capacity event at the arena since the start of the pandemic.

Here's the full list of Jacksonville cultural organizations that issued a joint statement saying COVID safety protocols will remain in place:

  • American Federation of Musicians Local 444
  • Beaches Fine Arts
  • Beaches Museum
  • Cathedral Arts Project
  • Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
  • Don’t Miss a Beat
  • Florida Ballet
  • Florida Theatre
  • Friday Musicale
  • FSCJ Artist Series – Broadway in Jacksonville
  • Hope at Hand
  • International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 115
  • Jacksonville Children’s Chorus
  • Jacksonville Dance Theatre
  • Jacksonville Historical Society
  • Jacksonville Symphony
  • Mandarin Museum and Historical Society
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Museum of Science and History
  • Players by the Sea
  • Riverside Arts Market
  • Springfield Preservation and Revitalization
  • The Art Center Cooperative
  • Theatre Jacksonville
  • WJCT Public Media

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.