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00000177-b32b-d5f4-a5ff-bbfb6e660000Here is the information you need to know about COVID-19 in Northwest Florida. We will keep this post updated with the latest information from local, and statewide agencies. For inforamtion from Centers for Disease Control and prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirusFor updates on Florida cases of coronavirus, visit the FDOH dashboard.The COVID-19 call center is available at 24/7 at 1-866-779-6121

Escambia Officials Say “Safer At Home” Is Not A Lockdown

Escambia County

When Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Wednesday for Florida residents to stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus, it sparked more questions than answers. On Thursday, Escambia County officials held a press conference to explain what it actually means.

Essentially, their conclusion is that nothing has changed.

“Walk, bike, hike, fish, hunt, run, swim. You can go to the bank, go to the pharmacy, vet, or go to the doctor, if “teledoc” is not available,” said Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender.

Based on the county’s interpretation, he rattled off a significant list of activities that people can still do under the new “Safer at Home” order, if they practice the recommended CDC guidelines regarding social distancing and group size of less than 10 people.

“You can attend religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship. Also, remember many of these services are being streamed online for you to participate in,” Bender explained.

“You can take care of pets, care for or assist a loved one or friend, order delivery or get carry-out curbside service. And, of course, the order does encourage people to work from home.”

Bender referenced the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Guide on Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. With sirens blaring in the background, he added that most functions of Escambia County fall within that.

“We are committed to providing essential services to our residents, but public health is our top priority,” Bender proclaimed. “The safety and the health and well-being of our citizens is our top priority and that’s why some of the actions that the county is taking and, of course, what the governor is putting in place is to figure out safety and to help prevent the further spread of the virus.”

As explained by Commissioner Bender, the executive order seems simple enough. But, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, who kept his hands in his pocket to avoid touching the podium, says something was lost in translation due to what he termed “bad messaging.”

“So, in that bad messaging, our public information officers, both at the city, county, and the sheriff’s office, got together and said, ‘We need to come before the public and talk a little bit about this to reassure everyone that, basically, nothing has changed.’”

Morgan said the intent of the governor’s order was a warning aimed at those at highest risk of contracting the coronavirus, those age 65 and older.

“And, it was a plea asking them to please, again, please follow the advice of our medical professionals. Limit your outside contact. It was not a lockdown order,” declared the sheriff.

“It was never meant to be construed as, ‘You now must stay in your home 24/7 and hopefully someone will come take care of you and if they don’t, you’re in real trouble.’ That was not the message at all.”

Offering further reassurance, Sheriff Morgan pointed out Escambia County doesn’t have the density of New York City and added that state and local officials could possibly amend the list of permitted activities.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson reiterated his plea for residents to remain calm, stop hoarding, work together, and to view this new “stay at home” order like directives from local officials in other more familiar emergency circumstances.

“This is similar to a hurricane evacuation in some ways and we expect your compliance,” said Robinson. “We’re not going to be there to arrest anyone, but we certainly have the same concept.”

He says a good rule of thumb to comprehending the intent of the executive order is to ask yourself if the trip is essential, every time you get ready to leave the house.

“This is thinking about, not just yourself. This is being bigger than yourself and thinking about the entire community, because the actions you take will impact the entire community.”

The message from the school district is, ‘It’s a different world, but it seems to be working,” said Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, who updated the effort to begin remote education for the district’s 40,000 students.

“I am just so impressed as I look over the shoulder of some of our teachers in the last few days, to see the amount of energy they’re putting into the lessons, how they’re being creative and innovative,” Thomas said. “At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to carry us through.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Thomas said the district was completing the distribution of Chromebooks to students in grades K-2, and working to ensure every student has internet connectivity or find other alternatives.

Starting Friday, he said staff preparing for extended work from home would not be answering phones at the schools. Instead, designated employees would be checking voicemails and ensuring calls are returned.

“I think the final item that I probably need to speak to that is on the mind of every student in the 12th grade. Everybody’s worried about graduation and commencement exercises being cancelled,” noted the superintendent,

At this point, Thomas said it’s not hopeful that they’ll be able to hold a commencement at the end of May. However, he suggested they could possibly wait as late as July, if the assembling of large groups were to be allowed by then. He reiterated that, right now, no announcements can be made until more facts about coronavirus are known.

“I will tell you this, we will do something to make sure we honor our seniors who’ve spent their life, thus far, preparing for that moment where they could walk across the stage in a cap and gown, have a picture taken and receive a diploma,” Thomas proclaimed. “I know that’s important and we’re going to support it in any way that we can.”

For now, those high school seniors, senior citizens and everyone else should be abiding by the “stay at home” directive and hunkering down to the extent that it’s necessary.

That means doing any of the long list of activities that are still permitted, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Individuals experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to go out and be tested, if they’ve been cleared to do so through pre-screening.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.