JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of doctors to sign on to an open letter addressed to Jacksonville’s Mayor and City Council asking for masks and social distancing at the Republican National Convention in August has more than doubled since News4Jax first learned about it Saturday.
As of Monday, nearly 500 doctors have signed the letter. Most are from Jacksonville and a few other locations in Florida.
“The response was truly overwhelming,” said Dr. Nancy Staats, a retired doctor who wrote the letter and sent it out to colleagues.
Staats moved to Jacksonville around two-and-a-half years ago from New Jersey.
“We don’t have a cure for this yet and we don’t have a vaccine,” Staats said. “And doctors particularly are not used to being quite so helpless and I think people are underestimating how severe this can be.”
Dr. Staats said there was no political motivation behind the letter.
“I am a registered Democrat and I’ve joined various causes over the years, but again, this stems from a desire to stop the virus. The virus is the enemy, not each other,” said Staats.
Members of Mayor Lenny Curry’s staff also spoke about this issue during Monday’s announcement that the city would be requiring masks in public.
The mayor’s office said it received the letter late Sunday afternoon and will respond.
“[We will] continue to monitor data. That event is over 60 days away so we’ll continue to consult with healthcare experts and our EOC people and the Sheriff’s Office,” said Mayor’s Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury.
As of Sunday morning, the city had not received a letter signed by about 200 physicians who have concerns about bringing the Republican National Convention to Jacksonville, according to a city spokesperson.
The physicians, many of whom are from Northeast Florida, signed the letter to Mayor Lenny Curry and City Council, asking for the convention to be postponed or reduced in size and for the city to immediately mandate the use of masks and social distancing before the convention.
“Allowing this number of people to descend on Jacksonville is unequivocally provocative of disease, predictably harmful, and medically disrespectful to the citizens of this city, much less the rest of the country,” the letter reads, in part.
A poll by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab found more than half (58%) of those polled are against the city hosting the convention. Of those polled, 71% said they are very or somewhat concerned about the spread of the coronavirus during the convention.
Curry has said there will be safety protocols, but what those measures look like will depend on where the virus stands as the convention gets closer.
“I would say, as I’ve said before, as we look at any event that is a month or two months out, We’ll assess the situation as we get close and make decisions based on the best interest of public health,” Curry said last week when he addressed the convention with reports.
The Democratic National Convention plans to be mostly virtual amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Mayor and UNF President John Delaney, who’s now the chair of the Civic Council, sat down with News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney, who’s the director of the Public Policy Institute at Jacksonville University, on “This Week in Jacksonville.”
“If you were mayor today, whether it was a Republican or Democratic convention, would you be seeking to hold it here in Jacksonville today?” Mullaney asked.
Delaney responded: “I think every mayor wakes up, trying to find a way to help the economy and bring more jobs to town. Whether it’s the Jehovah’s Witness, whether it’s a massive rock festival, I think everybody goes, ‘Yes.' The climate’s tough now with that virus, and it has become kind of stigmatized between the two parties. And then keep in mind, when the decision was made, the infection rates were dropping. Florida was ahead of the rest of the country. Jacksonville was ahead of Florida. The last week has been tougher, and I think it makes the call harder.”
When asked during a news conference Sunday how the state is going to handle the convention given the recent spike in coronavirus cases, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pointed out the event is still roughly two months away.
“We always said it was a work in process,” DeSantis said. “Obviously, we’re in a dynamic situation, so they know that. But I think we’ll be fine by that time. It’s a couple months away, and we look forward to seeing that.”