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.
“And if you feel you have concerns, we ask that you call the telephone number here – (850) 746-2684,” said the mayor, who is donating his $100,000 salary for 2020 for COVID-19 response.
As of midday Monday, there are five cases of coronavirus reported in Escambia County and four in Santa Rosa, according to the Florida Department of Health. Robinson says that number is expected to rise, as more test results come in.
“Most of the people at this particular time are in South Florida; that’s not to say we can’t see any increases here or substantial things going on,” Robinson said. “But until we do the testing we don’t know. So from our standpoint, we need to continue to do the testing and figure out what we have and what we’re fighting.”
“Brownsville has long been the anchor of Pensacola, but many times neglected in opportunity and resources,” said Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, whose District-3 includes Brownsville.
“So today, for me, it’s very important and very significant for this community to come and set up testing,” May said. “We have some difficult days ahead, but collectively together we’re going to get through this.”
With schools closed for the next few weeks, one of the challenges is providing meals to children who otherwise can’t get them. Feeding programs, says May, are getting cranked up countywide.
“We’re working with the city and our community centers; we’re partnering with the [Escambia] school district in the Evanwood-Oak Crest area,” said May. “I talked with the superintendent; they have five sites and I think we’ll be able to help out 18 sites by next Monday. Every neighborhood in Escambia County will have access to nutritional [sic] meals for children.”
“We’re here, 9[a.m.] to 1[p.m.],” said Chandra Smiley, executive director for Community Health Northwest Florida. “The mayor referenced that call-in number and we certainly would want you to call and go through the screening process. For those who need the test will be directed either to this [Brownsville] location or to the Sacred Heart location that was [set] up last week.”
One issue is the distribution of materials -- swabs and other equipment – among West Florida, Ascension-Sacred Heart and Baptist Health Care. Smiley says her agency is working with all three.
“I have staff over at their call centers and they’re shoulder-to-shoulder answering the calls and working together,” Smiley said. “On what would be the best location from access point to refer our people to. I do know that the CEOs from all three hospitals are meeting regularly.”
As with the rest of the country, the Pensacola area needs more tools to fight coronavirus – needed protective clothing and equipment. Eric Gilmore, Escambia County’s Emergency Manager, says they’ve received extensive wish lists from – well, you name it.
“Nursing homes, home health care providers;” said Gilmore. “Hospitals, law enforcement, first responders, of the potential shortages that they have currently. We’re asking them to just continue to work through their vendors; of course, we know there’s a backlog of vendors and everything.”
The state of Florida, he says, is beginning to ship out some badly needed items. One such delivery over the weekend is aimed at front-line health care workers at community health centers and hospitals.
“Two pallets; I think we received around 2,195 masks, said Gilmore. “We received some isolation gowns; gloves, face shields, things of that nature. It wasn’t a lot, granted, but it was something. A lot of counties didn’t receive anything from the state.”
Another shipment is due later this week. Gilmore says a plan is in place to receive and allocate where most needed, but he added that shipments could be “hit and miss” in the near future.
With more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida, opinions differ among politicians on whether a statewide stay-at-home order is needed. Currently, a number of night time curfews are in effect in parts of Central and South Florida. Local stay-at-home orders also being set up.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is leaning away from lockdown. He says society will only follow the strict limitations for a short period of time, before they no longer listen. Allowing some limited movement, he believes, is more sustainable.
“There’s just a lot of angst out there. So, if we can do this in a way that gives people a little bit of relief and an outlet, within the confines of being safe, I think we are better for it,” said the governor.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried – the state’s top elected Democrat – believes Florida should join California, Illinois and New York by enacting a uniform statewide policy. She contends leaving the decision to local governments creates confusion about the importance of social distancing.
“If you are doing all these precautionary matters, we have the power individually,” said Fried. “So, I think you look at it as that we are empowering people more than anything else to really take their own health and wellness, and that of their family members, seriously.”
A stay-at-home order would close non-essential businesses and leave Floridians with a narrow list of activities outside the home – such as grocery shopping, takeout meals, visiting a doctor, or banking.
Once again, the number to call if you feel you may need to be tested for COVID-19 is: (850) 746-2684.