An update on local COVID-19 numbers and what’s on tap for the remainder of his term. Those are among the topics in Mayor Grover Robinson’s weekly news conference at City Hall.
Reminiscent of Robert Frost’s “Miles to Go before I Sleep," the mayor — who announced he would not stand for re-election in 2022 — was asked if he was going to fast-track projects in the 18 months or so remaining in his term.
“I don’t think we’ve changed anything dramatically that we’re doing; we have a few things that are moving forward,” said the mayor. “Things that we’ve been wanting to pick up and get done.”
One of those is dealing with homelessness in Pensacola.
“We’re working to get a couple of more shelters opened up; we have a better plan coming forward,” said Robinson. “It’s going to be significantly different than what we were probably even thinking six months ago. There’s things we’re going to be coming [into], we’re going to have, hopefully [if] we are in that ARPA money.”
ARPA, The American Rescue Plan Act, is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus and COVID relief package signed into law by President Biden last month.
“We hope that we will actually be able to get some kind of direction from that, and so we’ll have a plan to [the city council],” said the mayor. “Have a significant portion of that dealing with either housing assistance – keeping people from getting evicted – or how do we do other housing and deal with the issue as homelessness?”
There are some things set up if ARPA monies come flowing in, and Robinson concedes that funding is key.
“It costs a lot to do those indicatives; it costs a lot to build a garage, it costs a lot to put solar panels everywhere — we’re going to do what we can,” said Robinson. “It sounds good — we do have money coming — but it’s going to run out quicker than everybody thinks. When you put everything down, we’re not going to be able to accomplish everything we want to accomplish with even the funding we have.”
Turning to COVID-19, the positivity rates from the three major hospitals — Sacred Heart, Baptist and West Florida — continue on their roller-coaster journey, with hospitalization numbers to be announced later.
“Positivity rates for [April 24] we’re at 8.21; 4.83 and 8.26 before that,” the mayor said. “The hospitalizations we’ll have to update, I haven’t gotten that from the hospitals, but we’ve been in the 30s.”
The local mask ordinance expired last week, 10 months after the emergency declaration leading to it. But Robinson still encourages residents and visitors to follow CDC guidelines and continue to wear them. Not only is the mayor touting facial coverings, he’s also encouraging, strongly, that all eligible residents get vaccinated.
“There are a number of places throughout Escambia County that you can get vaccinated, anyone over 18, and we’re really making the push,” Robinson said. “We hope to reach 175,000 adults 18 and older vaccinated in Escambia County by the end of May.”
Robinson paid tribute to a retiring member of his inner circle. Dick Barker steps down as assistant city administrator in June, after a lengthy public service career.
“I’m happy for him, [but] it means we are losing a lot of institutional knowledge here; Dick did come with Andrew Jackson when he came here, and has been at the city since that time,” said the mayor jokingly. “He will be sorely missed; in a variety of areas he has done an incredible job for us. And we’re very sad to see him go.”
Mayor Grover Robinson also announced that the three finalists for Pensacola police chief are due at city hall this week for a final round of interviews. A virtual forum will be held on Wednesday at 5:30 to hear from Booker Hodges, John Ortolano, and Eric Randall. The public is invited to submit questions online