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Rise In Pensacola COVID Cases Leads To Calls For Action

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

The City of Pensacola is bringing back some of the COVID-19 precautions from earlier this year to combat the new wave of the virus.

Speaking at his weekly news conference, the mayor said you need not look any further than City Hall to see the new rise in coronavirus numbers.

“We’ve got probably the highest [rate] in some time at the city, not because they actually have COVID, but because they’ve had exposure,” the mayor said. “We also have several people who are awaiting tests, and we find ourselves in an unusual position, but one that’s kind of common these days.”

The numbers from last week: the three area hospitals reporting more than 75 hospitalizations – which prompted Robinson to declare a state of emergency.

“On Tuesday, our hospitalizations went up to 78; then climbed on [Nov.] 11 to 89, 85 and 87,” said Robinson. “Then over the weekend, on Saturday they went to 80; Sunday was 87, and [Monday] is 86.”

But the mayor says there appears to be some leveling off as opposed to the last spike, which was non-stop for about a month this summer – peaking at 246 hospitalizations.

“Taking the actions we’re taking, hopefully we can begin to stop the spread; the challenge is you’re always looking two weeks behind,” said the mayor. “But I’m convinced hospitalizations is the most important one, along with looking at positivity rates. [The] positivity rate helps you understand where you are and what’s happening.”

That said, he added that for now, the positivity rate has been all over the road lately.

“On Nov. 11 the positivity rate was 10.42 [percent]; on Nov. 12 we were at seven percent,” Robinson said. “Then on Nov. 13 we were at 19.5% before settling on the 14th back to 6.72%.”

And as the state of emergency continues in the city, Robinson said they’re creating an emphasis on what’s been the mantra since the first wave this summer.

“Wear the mask; social distance, wash your hands, [and] avoid congestive areas,” said the mayor. “We’re not necessarily at this point believing or in any way advocating closures. We believe we can stay open, we can make that work. If you look at what we did in July – we didn’t close anything. Keep businesses open but do it in a prudent fashion.”

Rather than depend on issuing a mandate and expecting everything to fall into place in fighting the pandemic, the mayor is opting for another “M-word” – manage.

“I understand a lot of people have concerns, but the practical nature of the way people react; if there’s a tropical storm or hurricane in the Atlantic, nobody’s getting excited,” said Robinson. If it gets in the Gulf of Mexico, we start figuring out what to do. I think the same thing is true about mask ordinances.

“Masks work – mask mandates, though -- you just can’t mandate something and expect somehow it’s going to make it go away.”

However, Robinson opposes a nationwide mast mandate, as recently suggested by President-elect Joe Biden during the campaign.

“Look – there are some places where when the curve is going down you can begin to loosen things,” said Biden. “But you should have a mask mandate until we get this under control.”

“l don’t support national mandates, like I don’t support statewide mandates; because local conditions are different,” said the mayor. “And I don’t think they’re as productive if they’re national or statewide.”

What should happen, Robinson says, is that local areas should set up their own parameters, and let the public know they will take action based on what’s happening with the virus.

“We’ve been very clear about where we feel  hospitalizations are the numbers we track; we’ve been clear on if we get to a certain levels we will look to apply or to take off,” said the mayor. “We’ll be more successful in the state and the country if we allow local governments to exercise their control of their areas, based on local conditions.”

(Pushing down the COVID-19 numbers is job one, according to Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson. The faster that happens, he says, the faster everyone can get back to a time to relax – but he added, this is not that time.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.