Mayor: 'Keep the Pressure on COVID-19'

Mar 27, 2020

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson provides a briefing on the city's coronavirus status. Mar. 27, 2020.
Credit Dave Dunwoody

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson is asking residents for a little more time, to help put the brakes on the local coronavirus outbreak.

Robinson, Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, and other leaders this week met with officials from Baptist, Sacred Heard and West Florida, along with Northwest Florida Community Health and the Florida Department of Health. One topic dealt with the number of patients being checked for coronavirus as of Thursday.

“In-house there was one at Sacred Heart; there were three at Baptist but of the two at Baptist, two of them were in Gulf Breeze,” said the mayor. “Four persons under investigation at Sacred, five under investigation at Baptist. West Florida had had one person in-house, but they have been discharged. West Florida did have 20 persons under investigation.”

As of Friday morning, the state Department of Health reported 33 cases of COVID-19 in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, with seven patients in the hospital. Robinson says the city is fully engaged in containing the virus, and will continue for at least the next couple of weeks.

“At this particular time, based on the conversations Commissioner May and I had [Thursday], it does appear that we are looking still for about another two weeks from what the hospitals say,” Robinson said. “We’re looking to lengthen the city’s time of the current containment measures; we have asked for through to the Easter time frame.”

That would put Pensacola in sync with the stated timelines from Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Trump administration.

Dan Flynn, Director, Pensacola International Airport.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

“Now, we’re not saying that it’s going to be done by that time,” said the mayor. “But it is interesting based on the data we’re having and the discussions we have with health care, at this particular time, it is looking like our worst-case scenario will be reached within the next 15 days. That does not mean we will have a relapse – that means we continue to keep the pressure on with the things that we’re doing.”

Speaking in the breezeway next to City Hall, the mayor had praise for Pensacolians, who he says have made tremendous sacrifices in battling COVID-19.

“You changed your life; you’ve changed your businesses, you’ve taken tremendous financial hits the last two weeks,” said Robinson. “If we don’t continue the same thing for the next two weeks, those measures will be for naught.”

With face-to-face contact limited, officials are working the phones in shaping their tactics against the virus. Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May says he and Robinson speak several times a day, literally by the hour.

“[Thursday] morning we were on the phone with the Sheriff and the Early Learning Coalition on how do we bring about 24-hour daycare for our first responders, to our law enforcement, to make sure that we take care of our children while their parents are serving us,” said May.

The county is also working to limit the number of passengers on ECAT buses to ten, and bringing in the buses to be sterilized every two hours. And there’s work underway to alter Community Health’s drive-through testing program to include pedestrians.

“As we talk now, people will have to be in a car to be able to be tested,” May said. “Hopefully next week we will be able to address the walk-ins at the Brownsville testing Center. I do encourage all citizens to get tested, to get pre-screened.”

“There’s a lot of misconceptions out there with respect to airports, and what we can and cannot do; and this situation is certainly no different,” said Dan Flynn, director of Pensacola International Airport.

There are two questions being asked of all airports. Number one: why are airports still open during the COVID-19 pandemic?

“To put it in a nutshell, it’s called federal obligations,” said Flynn. “While the Pensacola International Airport is owned and operated by the city of Pensacola, we are part of the National Air Space System. We are not able to just shut our facility down in a situation such as this.”

If the feds determine there’s a need to restrict interstate transportation, they’ll provide guidelines for commercial airports. Question number two deals with Florida Executive Order 20-80, which targets passengers flying into Florida from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington State – the nation’s coronavirus hot spots.

“Right now at Pensacola, we do not have any direct flights to any of the focused locations,” said Flynn. “So the [Florida] Department of Health does not currently have personnel screening individuals at this time.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Friday that anyone arriving in the state from Louisiana must also self-quarantine because of the virus.