Jacksonville Announces Mandatory Face Mask Policy

Jun 29, 2020

Starting Monday, June 29 at 5 p.m., a mask mandate in Duval County goes into effect. At all indoor and public locations where social distancing isn’t possible, a mask will be required. 

“Do your part to please help stop the spread of this virus,” said City of Jacksonville Spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton.

Many large cities in Florida have already implemented a mask mandate. As recently as Friday, the city of St. Augustine passed its own indoor mask requirement. 

The mandates do contain exemptions for people who are unable to wear a mask because of a health condition, small children, and people who are working and able to remain physically distanced from others. It’s unclear whether Jacksonville’s mandate will follow the same guidelines.  

For the first time since the start of the pandemic response updates, Mayor Lenny Curry was not at the conference. City officials said he had a prior family commitment.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

Prior to Monday, Curry had pushed back on a mask mandate, saying it would be difficult to enforce and a drain on law enforcement resources.  

Monday, it appears that stance changed after a conversation with healthcare professionals.

Doctor Nancy Staats is one of hundreds of local doctors who lobbied for a face-mask ordinance to cut down on the rate of coronavirus infection. “We know, from scientific fact and studies, that the use of masks and social distancing will decrease the spread of the virus,” Staats said Monday on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Related: Listen to the full interview with Staats

“Today we had a conversation specifically around a mandate and that's how we ended up with the policy position today,” said City Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury.

Asked if Monday was the first day a mask mandate was suggested by healthcare professionals, Elsbury was unclear.

Soon after the update, Elsbury tweeted out a clarification. 

The current rate of people testing positive in Jacksonville is 5.6%. It's taken a steady rise since being at 2.7% a few weeks ago. 

The mandate comes after more than 200 doctors from Florida signed an open letter to Curry, asking him to mandate masks around the state and to postpone August’s Republican National Convention. 

“We did not receive that letter from the physicians until around 4 p.m. yesterday, when we got into the office this morning,” Kimbleton said. 

Kimbleton said the city will issue a response “in a timely manner.”

City officials said the mandate was still too far away from the RNC to determine if it’ll have any impact on it. 

“Of course, if you're walking into a venue and you don't have a mask, you wouldn’t be allowed in, off the top of my head that’s one quick and easy solution to that, but we'll continue to work on all these plans as we get closer to it,” Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said. 

Kimbleton also announced that more testing locations would be popping up throughout the city, with additional sites in Mandarin, Arlington, the Westside and Northside, and the Jacksonville Beaches communities. Details will be announced over the next couple weeks.

City officials are also working on moving the Lot J testing site to another location indoors, so weather won’t shut it down, as has happened before. 

For the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Williams said there are currently 128 positive COVID-19 cases in the Duval County Jail. There were 178 at one point, but 50 inmates were released early. Seventy correction’s officers are also under quarantine, and 19 have tested positive. 

The State Attorney’s Office is reviewing cases to determine if anyone else from Duval jails can be sent home. “In an effort really only to obviously lower the jail population,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, 232 Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department personnel are under quarantine, which Director Keith Powers equates to about 77 vacancies per shift. Thirty-three have tested positive. 

“Between the extra staffing we normally carry for vacation, job injuries, military leave, sick leave, etc., and JFRD personnel volunteering to work overtime, we've been able to keep all of our frontline frontline units in service,” Powers said. 

Powers said screening will continue for JFRD personnel, and new policies are being implemented at the fire stations, such as a requirement to wear masks at all times. 

An update was also provided on the Senior and Disabled Citizens program. That program, which is giving $300 dollars to those qualified groups who have seen a drop in income since the beginning of the pandemic, will begin getting contacted by the city Monday. 

- WJCT's Cyd Hoskinson contributed to this story.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.