COVID-19 and looking to the post-coronavirus future highlighted Mayor Grover Robinson’s virtual news conference on Monday.
Speaking from his office at City Hall after being cleared to end his self-quarantine, the mayor says other than some fallen tree limbs that were removed from roadways, there was little if any damage from the storms that moved through early Monday.
Elsewhere, there’s been talk about just when normalcy begins to creep back into everyday life. Robinson says for Pensacola, the most critical question is how to measure the importance of reopenings.
“In whatever ideas we come up with, making sure that we have hospitalization capacity,” said the mayor. “Also that whether it’s in Escambia County, city of Pensacola [or] Santa Rosa County [and] any of its municipalities, that our first responders are up and running and continue to service the area.”
Do you remember the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded security threat levels after 9/11? Now on the table now is a similar set up, using red, yellow and green in gauging first-responder status, in discussions with Police Chief Tommi Lyter and Fire Chief Ginny Cranor.
“They kind of say, ‘hey, if I’m down 15 percent of my force, I move from green to yellow; I can still do the function in yellow but it makes it real tough for me,’” said Robinson. “If I’m down 30 percent of my force, I’m in red and I cannot do the mission anymore that you’re asking me to do.”
The federal government last week issued a blueprint of sorts for resurrecting parts of the economy – in Phase I, Phase II and Phase III. Within Phase I, says the mayor, there’s a lot of latitude for local governments to implement their own strategies.
“Some of the things that I think will be there – you’ll start to see some restaurants come back with maybe some indoor capacity; not nearly the entire part,” said the mayor. “But again those are things, if you look at that order from the federal government – will begin to work that process. But I think the most important thing is that we set up a process to understand what is the impact on our community.”
That impact, says Robinson, includes dealing with long-term health facilities and assisted-living facilities and especially dense populations of older residents who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus. He adds that there’s room for improvement on providing more information on an outbreak.
“When you look at things like HIPAA, it makes it very difficult to release,” said Robinson. “I do think that, as we move forward, we have to have some changes in [the] law at a much higher state and federal level in dealing what are declared pandemics. I think we’ll be much better prepared, but there’s no doubt a law hasn’t kept up with where we are.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ temporary changes to Florida’s Sunshine Law -- enabling public meetings to be held online rather than in person – is coming in handy, says Robinson, who also warned that when the reopening’s begin, it will not be the same landscape as pre-pandemic.
“It’s not going to be March 1 when we get to May 1,” the mayor said. “It will be much more a process of working through. We are evaluating that and we ask for your patience and cooperation in working with us to get there. But it’s our goal to get as many people back to work as possible, but do it in a way that continues to protect the safety of our community.”
Reopening everyday life in Pensacola will be conducted in large part by following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mayor Robinson’s hoping that the state of Florida will also issue its own procedures. He’s out with a proposal that deals with the concept of hospitalization and first responders as part of any transition.
“We have not heard back from them, but I do think that’s a fairly good way to put some parameters on there, so we know we can measure something and make sure we have capacity," the mayor said. “We’re going to continue to have the virus; most of the people that are getting sick, they get better. And they’re actually able to come back into the workforce.”
One limit that’s expected to remain in place when the reopenings occur is that gatherings will still be limited to 10 people.
“Do I think that, maybe by the end of May and we’re still green that that number hasn’t increased to 50? That’s all speculation at this point,” Robinson said. “It wouldn’t surprise me that if everything stays green that we aren’t higher than 10 people by the end of May. But at the end of the day we’ve really got to wait for the results to come back and tell us whether we have problems or not.”
Meanwhile, the City of Pensacola is providing hand-washing stations at 11 locations for the homeless and others who do not have regular access to soap and water during the pandemic.
“Our hope is that these will help homeless individuals practice hand-washing techniques, as recommended by the CDC, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the mayor said. “A list and a map of locations is [sic] available at our website, www.cityofpensacola.com.”
Funding for the stations comes from the discretionary accounts of City Councilwomen Sherri Myers and Ann Hill, along with the city’s general fund.