JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Arena is quiet now but has become the focal point of a political storm.
The Republican National Convention has its celebratory event scheduled there in August and with the surge in COVID-19 cases, some would like the event canceled.
The convention is the big dance of any political party -- but some would like the city to cancel the RNC dance scheduled for August.
"In light of the level of virulence of this COVID-19 virus that it is really counterintuitive to have people congregate like they want to," said Pastor John Newman.
Newman is among clergy and community leaders urging city officials to reconsider hosting the RNC.
"If it was a religious gathering, if it was a Democratic Party gathering, under these conditions it is not healthy, it is not safe," said Newman.
On June 29, 600 doctors sent Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry an email expressing similar concerns:
On behalf of the 600+ doctors who expressed concern about the spread of COVID-19 in NE Florida in recent weeks, we sincerely thank you for implementing the mask mandate today. It will save lives and prevent many long-term complications, not just among the most vulnerable citizens but also our health care providers and staff members, first responders, grocery and restaurant workers and all their family members. We sincerely hope there will be cooperation with your mandate, and we wish to offer you our help in its implementation, including providing more education about the use of masks to the public.
In terms of conventions, we agree that we need to assess the situation week by week; we would anticipate however, that any visitor who comes to our area, whether in a large or small group, would follow the guidelines set forth by you, our Surgeon General and the CDC.
Until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment, we need to endeavor to limit the spread as much as possible and the mask mandate is a key component."
Curry in his response said:
"Thank you for contacting me to share your thoughts regarding COVID-19 and its impact on Jacksonville. As mayor, I appreciate thoughtful feedback from engaged citizens and use it to inform decisions and policies.
Since taking office in 2015, public safety has remained my top priority. That applies not only to crime and physical threats to the safety of citizens, but also threats to public health and wellness. Throughout this pandemic, my administration and I have made careful, fact-based decisions based on professional feedback and thorough analyses.
As an example of that, today we announced a mandatory mask requirement for Duval County for indoor public spaces as of 5 p.m., June 29. This decision was based on advice from medical experts that masks and cloth face coverings help prevent the spread from individuals with COVID-19 to vulnerable populations, including from those who are asymptomatic.
As it relates to the 2020 Republican National Convention, it is too early to make decisions. This event is two months away and circumstances will change. My team and I will continue to monitor conditions as the event date approaches and will implement any necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of visitors and citizens.
Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your shared commitment the health and safety of Jacksonville citizens."
Dean Black, Duval County Republican Chairman said Republican leaders are being flexible in their decision making.
"We are not going to have it done irresponsibly, we are going to do this very carefully, as long as it is done the right way as long as it is with due regard to public health then there isn't anything to fear," said Black.
The state under Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order now limits crowd size to 50% of capacity.
Will that change? We are waiting on a response from the Governor's office.
Erin Issac, spokesperson for the Republican National Convention Host Committee, said they have protocols in place. She said when it comes to health:
"Everyone attending the convention within the perimeter will be tested and temperature checked each day."