Councilman who battled COVID-19 says mask mandate ‘a good first step’

All but 1 member appeared to support, but members have more questions

Jacksonville's new mask order has sparked a heated discussion among city councilmembers as they met to discuss the move.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Less than 48 hours into Jacksonville’s mask mandate, City Council President Tommy Hazouri convened an emergency City Council meeting to ask questions of Mayor Lenny Curry and other Jacksonville leaders.

The mayor, who was noticeably absent during a Monday news briefing announcing Executive Proclamation 2020-005, addressed City Council from where he is spending scheduled vacation time with his family. He said that using masks is part of the city’s overall strategy to limit the spread of coronavirus. He said the city was adding additional testing locations in other parts of town.

Curry did not stay around for questions, leaving that to his staff.

VIDEO: Members of Mayor Curry's staff answer questions about everything from masks to testing in Jacksonville.

On Wednesday night, Hazouri appeared on CNN, speaking with Chris Cuomo, where he was asked about the Republican National Convention coming to Jacksonville.

“This is about our lives, this is about our health. Our primary duty as a government is to protect the health, safety and welfare of all of our citizens, and this definitely impacts all three areas,” Hazouri said. “If the virus gets worse, we’re not going to let them go into the arena and just be willy-nilly having a great time at the expense of the people of Jacksonville and quite frankly themselves.”

Of council members who spoke during the meeting, Danny Becton was the only one who clearly opposed the mandate, calling it “government overreach.”

“Doesn’t the mask restrict my breathing? Doesn’t it also have me inhaling my own carbon dioxide, which one of my colleagues said was common sense that a mask can help you. Well to me, this is common sense that a mas can actually hurt you,” Becton said.

Councilman Sam Newby, who was one of the first people in Jacksonville hospitalized with COVID-19, said if this mask policy was in force at the time, he might not have been infected at all.

“It was two times that I thought that I wasn’t going to make it,” said Councilman Sam Newby. “I wish that I had a mask on and I with the person who gave it to me had a mask on.”

Newby told News4Jax that he was surprised by Becton’s comments. He hopes people hear his story and learn from it.

“I am concerned about, you know, the beaches and people coming together and being in one place because let’s be realistic, you know, the person going to the beach, they’re not going to have their mask on,” Newby said.

Newby said the ordinance is “a good first step.”

As the ordinance stands now, masks are required indoors when a person cannot social distance. The city says masks are not required outdoors even though the wording of the proclamation requires them in all public spaces.

Anyone older than age 6 must adhere to this mandate. The only exception is for people who have a breathing condition that could worsen if a mask is worn.

In restaurants, customers are required to wear a mask into the restaurant unless seated at a table to eat. The mandate also applies to Baldwin and the beaches.

There is no enforcement in the mandate. Residents weren’t given any more direction on compliance with the mandate other than city leaders asking residents to “do the right thing.”

About the Authors:

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