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Jacksonville, new home of GOP convention, now requires masks

The convention moved to Florida after North Carolina's governor refused to guarantee the event could be held without coronavirus restrictions.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — The city of Jacksonville, where President Donald Trump is expected to accept the Republican nomination in his bid for re-election, on Monday enacted a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations and places where social distancing is not possible.

Republican Mayor Larry Curry, an avid Trump supporter, had just declared last week that he wouldn't require masks. His stance made the north Florida city an attractive location to Trump, who has mostly refused to wear one.

Republicans and Trump moved the Republican National Convention to Florida after Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina refused to guarantee the event could be held in Charlotte without restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's unclear if Jacksonville's mask mandate will still be in place during the Aug. 25-27 GOP convention at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena, which holds 15,000 people.

The mask requirement was taking effect at 5 p.m with no end date announced. Curry, who did not attend Monday's news conference because of family obligations, could not be reached for comment.

“We continue to urge everybody, please practice personal responsibility, do your part to please help stop the spread of this virus,” said city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton.

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She said city leaders reached the decision to require masks after consulting local health officials and that penalties for noncompliance were under discussion.

Recently a group of nearly 500 Florida-based doctors — many from northeast Florida — signed an open letter to Curry calling for the convention to be postponed. The letter, which was delivered to Curry this past weekend, also urged officials to require masks.

“It is extremely dangerous and contrary to current public health recommendations to stage a large event in an area where the number of cases is surging. The RNC should be postponed or very significantly reduced in numbers because of these risks,” the open letter states.

About 5,800 total positive cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, as well as 64 deaths.

On Monday, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said that more than 230 employees in the were in self-quarantine and 33 have tested positive for the virus, according to the Florida Times-Union.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked Monday about Jacksonville's order.

“We’ve advised from the beginning of May about situations where that would be appropriate, but we’ve left it to the locals about whether they want to use coercive measures or impose any criminal penalties,” the governor said.

During a daily briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about the Jacksonville requirement and whether Trump’s thinking about wearing a mask had changed at all, given the vote in Jacksonville and given increased virus cases in Florida, Arizona and elsewhere.

McEnany said she had talked to the president before the briefing to get his thinking and “it’s the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not. 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."