JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry has opted to allow Duval County’s mask mandate to expire this week.
Since June, Curry had kept a mandate in place requiring anyone over the age of 6 to continue wearing a face mask or face covering while in public indoor spaces, including employees and customers at businesses within city limits -- with certain exceptions.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the decisions I’ve made have been based on data. I’ve worked with hospital leadership, researchers, emergency management and more to make decisions that will help keep our community safe. At this time, based on current data, I have decided to lift the mask mandate that requires masks be worn indoors, in public spaces, where you could not be six feet apart,” Curry said in a statement.
Curry said that even though he decided to lift the mandate, businesses can still require customers to wear masks.
“This action demonstrates that we are another step closer to getting back to normal, but we are not there yet,” he said. “I encourage citizens to continue to take personal responsibility and make choices that they feel best protect themselves, their loved ones, and neighbors. Wear a mask when you can’t social distance, wash your hands frequently and, if you are eligible, I encourage you to get the vaccine.”
News4Jax checked with some local businesses about their plans now that the mask mandate has been dropped.
Brent Boger, whose family has owned a Five Points shoe store for over 50 years, said it’s a positive step but since most of his customers are older, he plans to keep his mask on and will ask his customers to do the same.
“As long as my customers feel more comfortable and safer, I will continue to do it just for them,” Boger said.
At bars, reactions were as mixed as the cocktails, with some barkeeps telling us they will continue to require masks and others saying they won’t.
Winn-Dixie grocery stores plan to continue requiring masks, but the public library is a city building, so you won’t have to wear a mask in there anymore, or in City Hall. But it’s strongly urged that you keep doing so anyway.
Jessica Beckford, the manager of BB’s Restaurant and Bar in San Marco, says customers will still be required to wear masks when walking into the restaurant. She says her employees will continue to wear them while working.
“We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing regardless of the mask mandate ending,” Beckford said. “We want to make sure we’re keeping our masks on to keep everyone safe.”
Michael Dowie, the general manager of the Shim Sham Room at Jacksonville Beach, says his customers and employees no longer need to keep a mask on.
“We’re still practicing safe measures, you know, make sure everything’s clean,” Dowie said.
According to data released Friday from the Florida Department of Health, 2,033,179 people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 33,116 residents and visitors have died with the virus.
In Duval County, 92,022 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, as of Friday, and 1,287 people have died.
Statewide, 5,475,209 people have been vaccinated so far -- 214,200 of them in Duval County.
Dr. Elizabeth Ransom with Baptist Health said even though numbers of COVID-19 cases are dropping and more people are getting vaccinated, the virus is not gone and masks shouldn’t go away.
“It really is coming down to a bit of a race between the vaccine and the variants,” Ransom said. “So I think that we maintain our vigilance and continue to wear a mask.
The Duval County Medical Society said:
“While we understand that the mask mandate for Duval County has expired, the Duval County Medical Society and its Foundation strongly encourage continued social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing as ways to mitigate the spread of COVID19. We also strongly encourage all individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as you are eligible in order to keep yourself and our entire community safe as we get closer to the end of the pandemic.”
Florida never instituted a statewide mask mandate and Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked local governments from enforcing their rules related to mask mandates.
While there was no enforcement power with Jacksonville’s mandate, some businesses said it gave them something to fall back on when customers disagreed with the policy.
DeSantis announced Thursday that he was expanding vaccine availability to anyone 40 years old and older in the state, beginning Monday, and that any adult can get a vaccine, starting April 5.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission voted March 2 to extend its mask mandate until April 7. It will be reviewed at its next meeting on April 6. News4Jax did not find any other local city with a current mask mandate in effect.