JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is banking on continued progress in the coronavirus pandemic to help keep residents safe from the spread of COVID-19 during the Republican National Convention in August, but that’s not the only thing he’s relying on.
“I monitor the science. I monitor the hospitalizations and will always adapt the actions of our city and our citizens based on the data at that time,” Curry said.
Curry answered questions Friday morning about the RNC’s relocation to Jacksonville, a move announced Thursday night. He said COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place, but what those will look like depends largely on what the pandemic looks like in two months.
“The status of COVID-19, the risks of COVID-19, what it will look like in late August will likely not look like what it does today,” Curry said. “Look at where we are today based on where we were a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago there were suggestions and statements that theme parks in our state wouldn’t open until next year, that sports teams wouldn’t be back until next year, that there would be no athletic events. Inside of 10 to 12 weeks that all changed, so if we continue on this trajectory, we’re going to be ready to go. We’re going to be back in business."
The Duval County Health Department told News4Jax on Wednesday that it will work with city leaders on hosting a safe and healthy convention, and Duval GOP chairman Dean Black said surfaces will be sanitized and temperatures will be taken at the main venue.
“We simply cannot crawl under a rock and stay there forever. At some point, we must figure out how to live again. Ultimately, if we freeze our economy, the resulting famine would kill far more people than the pandemic ever would," Black said.
But the chair for the Democratic Party of Florida, Terrie Rizzo, said President Donald Trump is trying to make it appear as if the coronavirus threat is over.
“Unfortunately, optics are not a public health strategy, nor are they a good re-election strategy. No speech this president makes can successfully gloss over his failed coronavirus response to Americans who have watched this president dither for months as more than 44 million have filed for unemployment benefits and 113,000 have lost their lives," Rizzo said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said a number of resources will be made available to the city to help with coronavirus response when the convention comes.
“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.
In a Friday press briefing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommended the use of face coverings, social distancing and limits on seating capacity for any large events.
The CDC classified the risk factors of mass gatherings in the following four categories:
- Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.
- More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
- Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.
- Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.
The CDC also strongly encouraged the use of cloth face coverings “in settings where individuals might raise their voice (e.g., shouting, chanting, singing).”
The RNC has made it clear that it wants a large event with a lot of people, Curry said, adding that he wants the same thing because of the economic boost it will give businesses coming off the pandemic shutdown.
“If COVID-19 presents challenges in the weeks ahead as we move into August that we have to adapt to, to keep people safe, we will put the safety of people first," Curry said. "Based on the information and data that I see now, I expect that this event is going to demonstrate that Jacksonville is back in business.”
The president’s re-nomination celebration will take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Area. Official details surrounding that particular event and others that will be held in Jacksonville will be announced later.