In his weekly virtual news conference, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson announced the beginning of “Recover Pensacola,” set to kick off this week to initiate the rebound from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s time for us to start coming back, and beginning to recover and beginning to open up; however, we do not want to do anything that would sacrifice safety, and so we’re looking to be measured,” said Robinson, from his office at City Hall.
The plan contains a number of elements covering key areas such as parks -- which are scheduled to reopen on Friday – and restaurants.
“I’ve talked to several restaurateurs in the downtown area,” said the mayor. “All of them are like, ‘Hey, we want to get open, we want to do things.’ But we want to make sure we do it safely. There’s no way we want to crash the system; certainly a number of them know people in New Orleans and what they’ve had to go through; and we want to prevent that from happening here.”
Recover Pensacola is being laid out in three phases. Phase 1 will seek out all residents vulnerable to COVID-19, and to isolate them from the virus by keeping in place existing safety measures.
“Social distancing and avoiding crowds of larger than 10 people; in our public parks in recreation you’re going to see some things that we’re going to do going forward,” said the mayor. “And finally all individuals should minimize non-essential travel and adhere to CDC guidelines.”
Input on the framework of the program will be provided by the Department of Health, along with local medical and business leaders.
“The group that we meet with, part of the medical professionals, and we also have a group that we meet with – Visit Pensacola, the Chamber [of Commerce], and Florida West,” Robinson said. “We’re going to consult with the most-affected industries and we’ll collaborate with DOH to make sure our metrics and continuing to put us in a ‘green’ position so we can continue to open.”
Work is ongoing for Phases 2-3. As mentioned last week, a color-coding system will be implemented, to determine the status of reopenings in Pensacola. It’s similar to traffic control, using the colors green, yellow and red.
“Green – that means we continue to progress with the phases of opening up,” said the mayor. “Yellow is where we hold where we are; we don’t open up anything else, we wait and see what happens. Red is a restart; it means we’ve got to go back – we may have to contract and pull back on some things and then restart the process.”
Schools and organized youth activities will remain closed in Phase-one; large venues can open, but based on crowd limits established by the state and the CDC.
“We certainly understand that there’s the ability in Phase-1 to open up movie theaters and some other things; but as long as it’s limited to 10 people, it’s very difficult to see how that makes a realistic open,” said Robinson. “Now, if the state comes back with new guidelines and new numbers – that allow us to go to 50 – that makes it much more practical to release.”
“Going forward, I think clearly folks should see a light at the end of the tunnel for the state of Florida; now it’s not going to be something that a switch is going to be flipped,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking Monday in Tampa.
“This is going to be slow and steady wins the race; very methodical, very data-driven,” said the governor. “And there’s probably going to be some people that think it’s too slow. I get that, but I think the country’s never gone through anything like this.”
There was no effective national program on economic activity during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918. DeSantis says because of that, in large part, we’re in uncharted territory 102 years later.
“We use the data, we use the facts as best we can, but the fact is nobody knows what this will do or that will do,” said DeSantis. “So you go slow, you measure, you go steady and then you make the best decisions that you can.”
Much of the criteria on what businesses to open were taken from the White House’s Reopening America Plan. One decision to be made at the local level, says Mayor Grover Robinson, is when to reopen gymnasiums and fitness centers.
“I think that will vary from location to location; but over the next month, if we’re still all in ‘green’ and we don’t have any setbacks I think at some point we will see gyms in most all jurisdictions opening,” said Robinson. “One of the things we saw from the president is bars remain closed. I think that will continue to happen.”
While Phase-one of Recover Pensacola kicks off this week in general and May 1 in particular, Robinson says there’s no set timeline at this point. If everything stays green, Phase-two could begin in June – state and federal government willing.