Jacksonville changes course, issues face mask mandate

VIDEO: A week after Mayor Lenny Curry said he didn’t think it was “prudent” to require the wearing of face masks in Jacksonville, the city issued a face-covering mandate.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A week after Mayor Lenny Curry said he didn’t think it was “prudent” to require the wearing of face masks in Jacksonville, the city did an about-face Monday and issued a face-covering mandate.

The order that went into effect at 5 p.m. Monday will be for indoor locations only, a city spokeswoman said. It will not be required outdoors, for anyone under 6 years old, for anyone with breathing problems or while at a table at a restaurant.

City officials said the beaches area is included in the mandate and masks are required anywhere inside where people are unable to socially distance.

News4Jax spotted businesses around town posting signs on their doors, alerting customers of the city-wide mask mandate.

The string of record or near-record days of additional coronavirus cases in Florida and greater Jacksonville was broken as Monday’s increase slipped back, but still increasing far faster than earlier in the month. Total cases in Duval County have doubled in eight days.

The Florida Department of Health reported 5,266 additional coronavirus cases statewide Monday, bringing the total to 146,341. Duval County added 260 cases.

“Health care experts advise masks and cloth face coverings help slow the spread from individuals with COVID-19 to vulnerable populations including from those who are asymptomatic,” said Nikki Kimbleton, Director of Public Affairs for the City of Jacksonville. “We continue to urge everybody, please practice personal responsibility, do your part to please help stop the spread of this virus.”

Jordan Elsbury, Chief of Staff for Mayor Curry, said the decision was made after speaking to leaders of local hospitals on Monday morning.

“Every single day, almost, we have conversations with hospital providers and CEOs and other members of our community and we felt that it was time to take this step,” Elsbury said.

Last week, Curry said he did not plan to issue mandatory face mask requirements despite rising COVID-19 cases in Duval County and calls from residents.

“I do not think that’s a prudent action to take,” Curry said on June 22. “We do not need to have law enforcement out in public enforcing this. It’s not an efficient use of resources and we’re not going to prosecute people, start prosecuting people, ticketing people and arresting people because they choose not to wear a mask.”

Curry was not present for the announcement of the mandatory mask order Monday, which was done during a virtual meeting held just after noon. Kimbleton said Curry was not there for the announcement because he had an “important prior family commitment.”

Updated mask requirements in Jacksonville (WJXT)

Most major Florida cities now require wearing face masks in public. A mandatory non-negotiable order is now in place for residents in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orange County. Last week, the St. Augustine City Commission voted to approve a resolution requiring people to wear face masks inside public buildings where social distancing isn’t possible.

RELATED: Here’s where other Northeast Florida counties stand on face masks

Kimbleton acknowledged that enforcement of the order will be difficult.

“But we have asked over and over again for people to just exercise that personal responsibility and wear those masks,” Kimbleton said.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that everyone wears a face mask in public in April, there is no federal mandate requiring people to do so.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will not mandate face coverings statewide, instead leaving it up to local officials. DeSantis was asked about Jacksonville’s mandate during a Monday press conference.

“So we’ve advised from the beginning of May, about situations where that would be appropriate, but we left it to the locals to make decisions about whether they want to use coercive measures or impose any type of criminal penalties you know we’re not going to do that statewide,” he said. “We’ve wanted to have a collaborative effort with the locals from the beginning, different areas have handled this differently based on their facts and circumstances and even today. You know, you see, obviously discrepancies throughout the state in terms of the course of the pandemic. So, we work very closely with Jacksonville, just as we’ve worked with the folks in South Florida and others, and we’re going to continue to do that and support efforts that they think are appropriate in their given jurisdictions.”

When it comes to the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to take plan in Jacksonville in August, the city said that event is months away and it will continue to monitor the situation as it gets closer.

No mask, no entry: the signs started going up around town after Jacksonville's mask mandate went into effect at 5PM Monday. Masks are required indoors when you can't maintain social distance, and on anyone over the age of six outside the home.

Residents react to mask mandate

News4Jax spoke with people from all sides of Jacksonville on Monday about the new mandate and most said it was about time.

“I believe we’re moving a little slow so far as the mandate as long as it takes. We can’t put a timeframe on this particular thing We must stay safe so kudos to the mayor,” one person said.

“I think it’s become really political, but I think the common sense thing is to ask everyone to wear a mask and, hopefully, that will shorten the amount of time we have the virus here wrecking so much havoc,” Katie Dalbey said.

“I think it’s a good idea. It should be worn everywhere,” said Jacksonville resident Pagan Platt. “It’s not going to prevent it all, but it’s going to help.”

“I think it’s a pretty minor inconvenience for a pretty big trade-off, so it’s a not a big deal for me. I’m usually wearing one,” Jacksonville resident Joshua Rodenborn said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not like you’re shutting down the economy or closing things. It’s just putting on a face mask and it’s pretty easy.”

“I don’t know all the answers. All I can say is it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Jacksonville resident Eleanor Coalson said.

Many people who News4Jax spoke with said they will be following the mandate.

“I think it’s the right move. I think it’s important for everybody to just show a little social awareness and do what we can. You know, there’s not a whole lot we can do, but at the very least, we can try to do our part a little bit,” said Jacksonville resident Ashton Marshall.

“It’s really hot, but that’s OK. I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. We’ve been wearing them since the beginning,” Jacksonville resident Ashley Klitzsch said.

A week after Mayor Lenny Curry said he didn’t think it was “prudent” to require the wearing of face masks in Jacksonville, the city did an about-face Monday and issued a face-covering mandate.

But others said the mandate has no teeth.

“I also saw that the mayor won’t be enforcing or citing people that don’t, so I feel you can still do whatever you want,” another person said.

“For my health, I’m gonna wear one in public places, but I don’t think you should force people to wear one,” said Jacksonville resident Anne Harris.

Some even claimed that the mandate is a breach of their personal freedom.

While News4Jax did see a majority of people wearing a mask in public Monday, some said the mandate could cause some problems down the line.

“I also think that’s a little tricky line that it’s getting mandatory I think that infringes on some right, but I think definitely in an enclosed space it’s wonderful,” said Kimmie Sanders.

A week after Mayor Lenny Curry said he didn’t think it was “prudent” to require the wearing of face masks in Jacksonville, the city did an about-face Monday and issued a face-covering mandate.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.