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Robinson, Local Health Officials Give COVID-19 Update

Mayor Robinson
Mayor Grover Robinson speaks about the importance of vaccines at his weekly press conference.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson shared the podium at his weekly news conference on Monday, with local healthcare officials dealing with the COVID-19 resurgence and the Delta variant. Everyone’s remarks had one common thread…or is that needle?

“Vaccines are not new; this is not something that just came up here, this is something that we have not already eradicated,” said the mayor. “We have to quit discussing false narratives, and really start discussing what the things in-hand are.”

One thing not anticipated, says Robinson, is that people would have such an animosity towards wearing face coverings to protect themselves and others.

We’ve been operating on people with masks; in fact, we’ve been conducting the most important surgeries with masks on,” said Robinson. “And yet, we have people say that, we’re going to have people faint. I’ll be the first to admit— if you’re out running around it’s hot in a mask; but it doesn’t change what’s happening [and] doesn’t change the effect of seeing what’s there.”

“As we embark on another school year, I am gravely concerned about the health and safety of the children in our community,” said Shondra Smiley, executive director at Community Health Clinics. “As and we wait for a pediatric vaccine, for those that are eligible, I — we — encourage you to get vaccinated.”

More than 166 million Americans — just over 50% — are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 50% of eligible Floridians have completed the protocol.

“And recent data reflects that Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties are at 46%, Smiley said. “Although great strides have been made, there’s still more work yet to be done. The COVID vaccines are safe; they are effective, and they reduce your risk of serious illness.”

Next up, Gay Nord, President and CEO of West Florida Hospital, who says area health care workers have been through unprecedented challenges over the past year, and are now facing the same challenges again.

“Nationally, 94% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients; that same number is approximately true for our community as well,” said Nord. “The facts are: the highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates.”

Add to that, virtually all deaths have been among the unvaccinated. The lone defense to minimize illness and mortality, Nord says, are the vaccines, which in turn would take some of the burden off hospitals.

“The burden of our community and our health care system is real; West Florida Health Care is rescheduling certain surgeries, to reallocate resources an increase our capacity to serve the emergent needs in our community,” Nord said.

Baptist Health Care President Scott Raines used his time at the podium to debunk some of the disinformation about wearing masks, saying that should be the least controversial action in this pandemic.

“It does not reduce the amount of oxygen you breathe; it does not increase the amount of carbon dioxide that you breathe,” said Raines. “It is a safe, effective way to help flatten the curve, and prevent the spread of the infection. Not just COVID-19, but all.”

In July, said Raines, not one COVID patient admitted to Baptist and placed on a ventilator was vaccinated.

“There’s no question that an unvaccinated person with COVID — vs. a person vaccinated person experiencing a breakthrough — is more acutely ill; overwhelmingly so,” Raines said. “The evidence is before us, it’s in our region. It does not have anything to do with what’s going on somewhere else, although it’s true everywhere.”

“Since July 1, our COVID hospitalizations have risen seven times,” said Ascension-Sacred Heart President/CEO Dawn Rudolph. “What was different this time from the last surge, is the Delta variant. It’s 50% more contagious than the original strain.”

At this point, children under 12 years of age are not eligible for the vaccine, as a pediatric version is said to be in development.

“We’re seeing more pediatric patients Studer Family Children’s [Hospital] that we did the first time around,” Rudolph said. “that’s frustrating to our caregivers, knowing that had we used vaccinations to a higher degree here in Escambia County, we would see a less amount of hospitalizations.”

Overseeing the area’s battle with the coronavirus is the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County.

“Public health is everyone’s responsibility; in addition to getting vaccinated, the best way to prevent illness is to practice tried-and-true public health mitigation measures,” said DOH-Escambia administrator Marie Mott.

“Such as getting vaccinated against other preventable diseases; staying home when you’re sick,” she said. “Washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer with at least a 60% alcohol content, covering your cough or sneeze by using a tissue, your sleeve, or elbow; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched objects and surfaces.”

More information is available at numerous websites, Baptist, Ascension, and West Florida Hospital; Community Health Clinics, and the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, among others.

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.