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COVID-19 Retakes Center Stage

Covid-19
Marta Lavandier
/
AP
Paola Preciado gets a COVID-19 test, Thursday, July 15, 2021, in North Miami, Fla. Florida's COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are again increasing, ending months of steady decline that began widespread vaccinations became available and creating a trend that has epidemiologists worried as the more infectious Delta variant spreads.

The latest on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Pensacola area moved to front and center, in Mayor Grover Robinson’s weekly news conference at City Hall.

Florida now leads the nation in coronavirus cases, with its biggest spike since last summer, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times. And that’s causing health officials and local leaders such as Robinson to scramble back and resume crunching the numbers.

“We have seen significant increases in positivity; I know they were 10%, and they were at 13.6% for last week,” said the mayor. “At this point, we have not been tracking hospitalizations; the hospitalizations, I think, were at 58, which was not anything necessarily to panic over, but it was up.”

The Mayor is scheduled to meet with officials at the area’s three major hospitals — Baptist, Ascension-Sacred Heart, and West Florida. It’s being organized by Sacred Heart CEO Dawn Rudolph and scheduled for next Monday.

“[To] talk and see where we are and what’s happening,” said Robinson. “There’s a lot of things going on; when I talked to Dawn she wasn’t sure whether this was related to the Fourth of July [and] other things that were happening. Or what necessarily was the cause.”

The mayor then repeated the mantra that’s been out there roughly since the start of 2021.

“If you get vaccinated it’s still out there, it’s still a variety of things but the impact, the severity, the intensity of what happens with COVID in your experience is much less if you get the vaccine,” he said. “COVID-19 is always going to be with us; the challenge is, ‘What does it have to be in the severity?’ And that’s why we’re certainly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.”

Numerous reports say hospitalizations and deaths are rising among the unvaccinated, while the small number of infected but vaccinated people are not getting seriously ill. Robinson faces a similar challenge regarding city employees and their vaccination status –or non-status.

“If you’re unvaccinated, even if you’re exposed, you’ve got to quarantine; if you’re vaccinated and get exposed, you don’t have to quarantine – this is both private and public sector,” the mayor said. “If I was a company and I had multiple employees, I would be finding a way to take care of their health. Because their health is vitally critical to my mission, and if I was in the private sector my profitability.”

Meanwhile, pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships will remain in place for now. On a 2-1 vote late Saturday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked a previous ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit challenging the regulations imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It was supposed to be a temporary thing so that we could kinda make sure that people had supplies and all that other stuff,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis. “And it turned into an indefinite shutdown of a very important industry that affects a lot of people.”

The one-paragraph decision was filed just minutes before a Tampa judge’s previous ruling on the CDC restrictions was to have taken effect. DeSantis repeated his argument, that the feds don’t have the authority to place such restrictions on the industry, which has a large presence in Florida.

“Most courts at this point have had their limit of the CDC issuing these dictates without a firm statutory basis, the governor said. “So, I am confident we’d win on the merits at the full 11th Circuit, and honestly I am confident we would win at the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, with DeSantis’ blessing, filed the lawsuit in April, contending that the CDC had overstepped its legal bounds in imposing the restrictions. Unless removed, the stay would allow the CDC restrictions to remain in place at least until the appeals court rules on the underlying issues in the case.

Back in Pensacola, which does not serve as a cruise ship destination, Mayor Grover Robinson’s staff is beginning efforts to set up more places for people to get the coronavirus shots.

“We’re certainly trying everything we can, we’re even bringing people here,” Robinson said. “I know that our team has been in touch with some of the providers, trying to line up opportunities to come here to City Hall or other city facilities, making it easy for city employees. If there are any large employers out there they should contact them – they could probably come to their place of work [and] find a way to do it.”

Over the past week, more than 45,000 new COVID-19 cases were identified in Florida — an average of just over 6,500 per day — according to the Florida Department of Health on Friday. That’s compared to the nearly 24,000 new cases from the previous week.