JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County Health Department told News4Jax on Wednesday that it will work with city leaders should the GOP choose Jacksonville as the host of the Republican National Convention in 2020.
The Health Department said it will ensure the appropriate measures are being taken to keep people healthy amid the threat of COVID-19 based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A statement from a Health Department spokesperson reads:
“If the Republican National Convention is held in Duval County, The Florida Department of Health in Duval County will work to support the city of Jacksonville to ensure the well-being of event attendees. The Department would work with local officials to ensure that all the appropriate measures are being taken with regards to COVID-19 based on the current CDC guidance.”
A week ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would welcome the RNC in the Sunshine State and that the spread of the novel coronavirus should not dissuade the Republican Party from holding the event in Jacksonville.
“This is almost three months out. I think that we are probably going to be able to pull it off, but you know what, if it gets closer and we need to call an audible, I mean, heck, he has the CDC at his disposal. He can tell us what needs to be done to be able to do it," DeSantis said.
As of Wednesday, the CDC still had an advisory for large events on its website, which was posted in mid-March. It reads: “Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities.”
Florida is still restricting venues in which large events could be held, such as auditoriums, to 50% capacity.
North Carolina’s concerns over mass gatherings is what President Trump said prompted him to pull big RNC events from their original home in Charlotte. In a June 2 letter to the RNC leadership, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said: “As much as we want the conditions surrounding COVID-19 to be favorable to hold the convention you describe in late-August, it is very unlikely.”
President Trump tweeted:
“Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-In-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised.”
The VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville’s largest auditorium, as of Wednesday was still closed due to COVID-19. At 50% capacity, it will hold a maximum of 7,500 people.
At full capacity, TIAA Bank Field would hold just over 67,000 people, but it too remained closed due to COVID-19.
News4Jax asked Dean Black, the Duval GOP chairman, if there was any concern over the potential spread of COVID-19 in an event as large as the convention.
“Of course, and it’ll be dealt with responsibly," Black said. "Our government here in Jacksonville has among the best records on the face of the Earth in dealing with it, and they will deal with it in a responsible manner.”
A statement from the Duval GOP reads:
“We are ecstatic the Republican National Committee sees what we do in Jacksonville. While we understand the final decision on a convention location has not yet been made, we are excited for the possibility of hosting our great President and Republican leaders. Reaching this stage of the process would not have been possible without the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Mayor Curry, Sheriff Williams, and many others. Jacksonville holds the privilege of being the largest Republican controlled city, we hope to show the rest of the country the benefits of Republican governance.”