For this Gulf Stories Moment, we're joined by Dr. Athena du Pre, Distinguished University Professor from the Communications Department at UWF, who tells about effective ways to communicate with your health care provider.

City of Pensacola and Escambia County leaders provided an update on the coronavirus’ impact on the area on Monday, as the number of reported cases continue to rise.

At the start of his weekly news conference, Mayor Grover Robinson told constituents, “we will get through this – we will find a way.”

The mayor and the others spoke at the Brownsville Community Center, where testing for COVID-19 began Monday morning. 

Jennie McKeon / WUWF

Monday morning was supposed to be back to school for the 30,000 kids living in Santa Rosa County. As schools are closed through April 15 during the coronavirus pandemic, the school district and parents are trying to find ways to not only educate kids, but keep them fed. 

Outside Holley-Navarre Primary school, lunchroom workers and bus drivers were ready with 400 prepared breakfasts and lunches for children 18 and younger as part of the Summer BreakSpot program. Before the pick-up officially opened at 9:30 a.m. there were already about a dozen cars in line. 

Jennie McKeon / WUWF

Santa Rosa County officials on Friday closed Navarre Beach in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the county ordered all restaurants to sell food by takeout or delivery. 

It was a reversal of an announcement Thursday afternoon that the beach would remain open.


Following moves from Okaloosa and Walton counties, the city of Destin voted unanimously Friday morning to close beaches in city limits from March 21 through April 30 to prevent spread of coronavirus. 

Ninety percent of Destin’s beaches are privately owned, but City Council members decided an all-or-nothing approach would be the best option.

“If we’re only closing 10% of the beaches, what is that going to affect,” asked Councilman Skip Overdier. “That’s like putting a three-alarm fire out with a garden hose.” 

Santa Rosa County School District

The Santa Rosa County School District next week will begin feeding students at several locations. The students were to return to school Monday, following this week’s spring break. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered schools to be closed until April 15 and that students should be educated remotely.

Santa Rosa County

The beaches of Santa Rosa County remain open. County officials said the beaches will remain open as long as the public follows the guidelines of social distancing. That means groups no larger than 10 people can congregate.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon in Milton, Dan Schebler, county administrator said the decision to keep the beaches open will be reassessed daily. Deputies with the Sheriff’s Office will monitor the situation to make sure beachgoers keep apart a healthy distance.

Okaloosa County

Twenty seven miles of public beaches will be closed in Okaloosa County in a drastic move to avoid further spread of COVID-19, effective Saturday March 21, through April 30. 

It’s a move Okaloosa County Commissioners did not take lightly as they debated and took public comment for nearly three hours during an emergency meeting.  Dr. Karen Chapman of the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County made a passionate case for limiting the amount of visitors coming to the area as tourist season begins to ramp up. 

Since my wife and I moved downtown over a year ago we’ve come to love the ease of traveling on foot or bicycle. Flat paved streets and sidewalks make it easy to reach grocery stores, restaurants, the eye doctor or the YMCA.

Not to mention avoiding traffic for parades, Wahoos games or other events.

Downtown has also become friendlier to bike riders and walkers. Since the new bike lanes were painted up Palafox Street to North Hill I’ve it more on my bike than in a car. And I’m a biker wimp who usually avoids major streets.


Testing for COVID-19 in Escambia County is ramping up. Earlier this week, Ascension Sacred Heart began a drive-through testing operation. Now, the local capacity for coronavirus testing is widening, as other local health care prepare to offer testing as well.

Sandra Averhart/WUWF

Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas on Wednesday afternoon laid out a districtwide plan to educate the county’s 40,000 students starting April 1.

At a news conference at the district’s Hall Center, Thomas said the plan coincides with Gov. Ron DeSantis’s order that students remain out of school until April 15.

On March 30, district employees, except transportation employees, will return to regular work locations, Thomas said. They will not be allowed to congregate in groups of 10 or more. Teachers will begin training on how to teach their students remotely.

Georgia Barrett/Special To WUWF

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, local food banks are seeing a significant increase in need with schools closed and families losing income. 

DeDe Flounlacker, executive director of Manna Food Pantry in Pensacola, said the nonprofit recognized early on how the coronavirus would impact households. They started to prepare by getting the word out to people working in the service industry and identifying families in need through the Boys and Girls Club. 

The health-care industry in Northwest Florida stays prepared for disasters — whether it be a hurricane or public health scare like COVID-19. Yet, the biggest demands continue to be medical supplies and equipment, and staffing.

Ann Hill is the executive director of the Emerald Coast Healthcare Coalition (ECHC), a network of healthcare agencies that covers 10 counties, from Escambia to Holmes, that work together before, during and after disasters. 

Fifty years ago today, a little-known state senator, Lawton Chiles, started a 1,000-mile walk across Florida. The trip - that earned him the nickname “Walkin’ Lawton” - would take him to the U.S. Capitol and later the governor's mansion in Tallahassee. This famous journey on Mar. 17, 1970 began north of Pensacola, in the small Town of Century.

Today, a sign reminds residents and visitors of the campaign trek that propelled Chiles into the U.S. Senate.  

University of West Florida

The University of West Florida is shut down for at least the next two weeks thanks to the possible threat from the novel coronavirus. The bug has caused a drastic reduction in campus activities.  

President Martha Saunders gave some familiar-sounding advice while meeting with the local media Tuesday at President’s Hall, an on-campus residential building.

“The campus is very different today; as a response to the coronavirus we have encouraged students to stay away,” said Saunders.