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Mask Debate Continues Between Pensacola, Escambia County

City of Pensacola

Urging residents to put on a face mask to protect against coronavirus took up a good part of Mayor Grover Robinson’s weekly virtual news conference on Monday.

“If there wasn’t an election going on, I don’t think we would have any problems with masks,” said Robinson. “The science clearly shows we should be wearing masks, and it’s unfortunate that, for some reason, we’ve got to make this a debatable situation.”

Speaking from City Hall, the mayor added that compliance with the new mask ordinance inside the city limits has gone up in the two weeks since being passed by the city council.

“I’m not saying it’s 100 percent compliance, but I still see more people doing it than not, and from that standpoint we’re going to keep working and we’re working with things the best we can,” said the mayor. “If businesses want to have their own policy, they’re certainly welcome to have their own policy – it is their private property. If you want to shop there, you probably need to follow those rules.”

While face coverings are required in the city, no such mandate for Escambia County appears to be on the horizon. But the county last week did introduce the “Mask up Escambia!” initiative – complete with exclamation point.

“We have provided masks at all of our libraries [and] community centers,” Gilley said. “I do think that education is the key, and we’re trying our best to be part of that education.”

The county also plans to hand out masks – during normal business hours -- at Pensacola Beach. But they’re not mandatory, either for the public, or for county employees.

“We are doing our best to make sure that we are being very respectful of each other’s distance and space; that’s why it hasn’t been mandated,” said Gilley. “But I know that we have a lot of employees that are very conscious of their situation and the others around them, and [making] sure that they are protecting them.”

While a proposed county mask ordinance has not surfaced, at least one member likely would be a “no” vote if one does.

Credit myescambia.com
Escambia Co. Commissioner Jeff Bergosh (R-District 1).

“This is Commissioner [Jeff] Bergosh; I will certainly look at whatever they send over,” he said via telephone. “But we educate and inform everyone and provide masks for whoever want [them]. Those who are medically fragile, infirm, or at great risk have the ability to make choices.”

Bergosh – who represents District-1 – sides with Gilley that there’s no need to mandate face coverings. Instead, he takes what he calls the prudent – and not the knee-jerk – choice.

“We educate and inform everyone and we provide masks for those who want [them] and those who are at great risk have the ability to make choices to limit their exposure,” Bergosh said. “While at the same time everyone else can go about our lives while practicing the CDC guidelines. And I think the city [of Pensacola] made a – [pause] – well, I’m just going to leave it there.”

District 4 Commissioner Robert Bender concurs, saying he doesn’t believe a mask ordinance is the way to go. Meanwhile, Mayor Grover Robinson is content with the existing city mask ordinance, but would like it expanded beyond the city limits.

“What I would like to see happen is obviously the entire region go to a mask ordinance; that’s what the 3 area hospitals are telling us needs to happen,” Robinson said. “If we really went the Escambia-Santa Rosa area – and we work together and create a mask [requirement], we’d start making a positive dent in these numbers.”

The free mask giveaway is now the only function of the city’s community resource centers. They and many of their programs have been ordered closed by the mayor because of increasing COVID-19 numbers.

“Exceptions -- the free mask distribution will continue; senior meal and youth meal pickups will continue,” said the mayor. “Outdoor adventure camps will continue and the city of Pensacola outdoor pools and parks will remain open to the public.”

Elsewhere, today’s Pensacola News Journal is reporting a group of defense attorneys in Pensacola is asking the courts to delay plans to hold more face-to-face proceedings. They seek a return to Phase-1 operations -- where only cases deemed essential would be in person. Other proceedings would be held remotely.