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City Council Largely Shows Support For Countywide Mask Mandate

A mandatory mask mandate has been in place in Jacksonville since June 29 at 5 p.m.
A mandatory mask mandate has been in place in Jacksonville since June 29 at 5 p.m.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry gave his reasoning for a countywide mask mandate Wednesday afternoon. 

“I remind you that even before the mandate, I have a long record, we have a long record in this city, as we've navigated this, of encouraging people to wear their masks and now it's mandatory. So let's just do the right thing and help each other out,” Curry said. 

Curry didn’t stay in the meeting to take questions, but had his administration answer concerns from the City Council. 

For the most part, the Council was supportive of the mandate. 

Important clarification: adhering to CDC guidelines, mandatory masks are for ages 6 and up and once again ONLY required indoors. pic.twitter.com/fZv1NAAOam— City of Jacksonville (COJ) (@CityofJax) June 30, 2020

“I want to be really clear, I appreciate the mandate for masks, and I appreciate it in particular as the mom of millennials and Gen Z,” said Councilwoman Brenda Priestly-Jackson. 

Councilman Sam Newby - who caught the coronavirus in March - voiced his agreement with the mandate as well.

“I wish that I had a mask on, and I wish the person that gave it to me had a mask on, and I wouldn't have been in the situation that I was in,” Newby said. 

The lone council member who voiced an opposing view was Danny Becton. 

“I'm not jumping on the bandwagon on this mandate for masks, and I just think this is a huge government overreach for 99-point-something percent of our population who are healthy,” Becton said. “They're doing the right things, washing their hands, doing social distancing. We're doing all the smart things of being safe, and being illness-free like we do 365 days a year.”

Becton brought up a theory that has been debunked by health officials, including the Cleveland Clinic. He said masks restrict breathing and cause people to breathe in their own carbon dioxide, inversely hurting them.

City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said that health experts in Jacksonville have consistently said that mask-wearing is helpful in preventing community spread. 

“The science is clear that there's benefit to masks,” Hughes said. “We can argue about how much benefit, but there is no credible science that says they are of zero benefit.” 

Councilman Al Ferraro said he’s been getting calls from angry constituents, and he understands Becton’s concern for government overreach.

“I'm not looking at it this way. I look at it as we're protecting our citizens,” Ferraro said. 

Curry said the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU care in Jacksonville currently stands at 42. According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, at the time of this story's publication Duval County had 67 of its 426 ICU beds available, which is 15.7% availability. Intensive Care Unit beds are also used for other life threatening medical conditions such as heart attacks and critical injuries.

Hughes also said that four of six new testing sites across the city should be open in around two weeks from Wednesday. 

Councilman Ron Salem questioned if adding even more testing could hurt the turnaround time for people who are still awaiting their results.

“I would argue that even if it ultimately slows some results down, the more testing we can do, the better,” Hughes responded. 

In regards to the Republican National Convention, Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury said it’s still too early to tell what decisions will be made for safety, or if it will be deemed unsafe to continue.

“That event is two months away. We saw how quickly in fluid this situation changed from March, April to June and now in July,” Elsbury said.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

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