By: Mike Mendenhall
As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry allows Duval County’s requirement to wear face masks in public places to expire, JAX Chamber says local businesses “know what their employees and customers are comfortable with and should continue to make decisions accordingly.”
Curry released a statement last week on lifting the mask mandate after it was in effect for nine months.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the decisions I’ve made have been based on data,” Curry said.
“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 also said businesses still can require people to wear a face mask despite the absence of a citywide order.
In an email March 29, JAX Chamber Chief Public Affairs Officer Matt Galnor was supportive of Curry’s overall coronavirus response and urged businesses to make pandemic-related decisions on an individual basis.
“Through the entire pandemic, Mayor Curry has worked to strike a balance between safety and allowing our economy to keep moving forward. Business owners have adapted and evolved many times over the past year,” Galnor said.
“They know what their employees and customers are comfortable with and should continue to make decisions accordingly.”
JAX Chamber represents about 3,000 businesses and organizations in Northeast Florida.
UF Health Jacksonville Media Relations Manager Daniel Leveton declined to say in an March 29 email if now is the right time to lift the mask mandate in Duval County.
UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley provides occasional guidance to Curry and city officials on pandemic policy upon request, Leveton said. Haley was one of 12 people Curry named to an informal advisory panel in April 2020 to help guide the city administration’s strategy to reopen Jacksonville’s economy and social life.
Leveton said UF Health Jacksonville is following all federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines on its campus, including recommendations for masking.
UF Health Jacksonville and other medical experts say face masks slow person-to-person transmission of the virus.
“The CDC continues to recommend wearing masks in public settings, such as at events and gatherings,” Leveton said.
“In addition, in an abundance of caution, UF Health Jacksonville continues to require masks for all employees and visitors while on campus.”
Curry’s move comes as some governors in states like Alabama, Texas and Iowa have lifted COVID-19 restrictions and face mask requirements, according to NBC News and the Associated Press.
Others, like Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, announced they would lift indoor capacity restrictions but maintain face mask requirements.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did not issue a statewide mandate and left the decision to mayors and county commissions.
Duval County’s mask mandate was adopted June 29 in an emergency executive action signed by Curry.
Jacksonville renewed the mask order monthly, using city code section 674 that allows the mayor to make certain public health requirements in civil states of emergency.
Curry’s decision to lift the requirement comes as confirmed daily COVID-19 case rates in Duval County were between 3.82% and 5.37% from March 14-27, according to data released by the Florida Department of Health.
Duval County saw 97 new cases March 27 with 4.02% of tests positive for the virus. That compares with 724 single-day cases reported June 27, two days before Curry first signed the mask order.
Although the mandate is lifted, Curry said it does not signal an end to the pandemic and urged continued face mask wearing. He recommends that Duval County residents take one of the three available coronavirus vaccines.
“This action demonstrates that we are another step closer to getting back to normal, but we are not there yet,” Curry 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.”
Beginning April 5, all Florida residents 18 years and older will be eligible for the vaccine.