JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The marquee events of the Republican National Convention were rescheduled for Jacksonville after North Carolina’s governor told the Grand Old Party and President Donald Trump was “unable to guarantee” that the Charlotte arena where the convention was to be held could be filled to capacity.
So when Jacksonville announced Monday that it would adopt a face mask requirement for indoor locations where social distancing is not possible -- a rule that’s been adopted by more than a dozen states and hundreds of cities of all size across the country -- it was headline news in the New York Times, USA Today, Fox News and other national outlets precisely because Trump wanted to accept the Republican nomination in a place where there would be no such restrictions.
Trump is now set to accept the nomination the last week of August at the city-owned VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, which holds 15,000 people. Republicans are obligated to hold some portion of the convention in Charlotte because of a contract the party signed, but the celebration is now scheduled for Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville RNC Host Committee estimates 40,000 people are expected because of the event.
“The event is still two months away, and we are planning to offer health precautions including but not limited to temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols and available COVID-19 testing,” RNC National Press Secretary Mandi Merritt told CNN. “We have a great working relationship with local leadership in Jacksonville and the state of Florida, and we will continue to coordinate with them in the months ahead.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that Trump, who has not been seen wearing a mask in public, told her he “has no problem with masks.”
"It's the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not," McEnany said at a White House press briefing. "He encourages people to make whatever decision is best for their safety, but he did say to me he has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you."
Trump did not wear a mask at his recent rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and did not require attendees of the event at the indoor arena to wear masks even though they were provided to everyone who entered.
President of the Republican Party of Duval County, Dean Black, said GOP leaders like Mayor Lenny Curry continue to monitor health statistics day by day and week by week, and that will continue through the convention.
“As we’ve said all along, we trust Republican leadership to make responsible decisions and this is an example of them making responsible decisions,” Black said.
But there have been calls to scale back or postpone the convention, including in an open letter to Curry over the weekend that has now be signed by more than 400 physicians. That same group of doctors wrote a new letter to Curry after Monday’s announcement praising the decision to require masks indoors.
“We sincerely thank you for implementing the mask mandate today. It will save lives,” the letter reads. “In terms of conventions, we agree that we need to assess the situation week by week.”
Daniel Henry, head of the Duval County Democratic Party, feels that attendance should be scaled back as his party has done for its convention in Milwaukee earlier in August.
“(We) continue to say from the very beginning that the decision to bring the RNC was not a smart decision -- the fact that we would have an untold amount of people ... come to Jacksonville without equal guarantees of social distancing and any type of requirement where people are safe,” Henry said.
Jacksonville’s mandatory face mask requirement comes after a spike in coronavirus cases in Florida and the city. Florida set a daily record of 9,585 new cases Saturday and new cases have been above 5,000 for a week. Beaches in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach will be closed for Fourth of July weekend as officials keep a cautious eye on the rapidly rising number of new coronavirus cases in the state.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has encouraged residents to say away from closed spaces, crowds and close contact, was asked Sunday if he has assured Trump that the convention can take place without mask requirements.
“It’s a work in progress,” DeSantis said. “I think we’ll be fine by that time -- it’s a couple months away -- and we look forward to seeing that.”
We reached out to the president for his opinion on Jacksonville’s mask mandate on the platform he seems to prefer. We’ll let you know if we hear anything.
CNN Newsource contributed to this report.