After the Florida Legislature adjourned its 2021 regular session last week, members are now gearing up for a special session on a gaming deal. 

Amid the hundreds of bills proposed each session, only one is a mandatory pass – the state budget. State Sen. Doug Broxson says as time progressed, things began looking better and better for the spending plan.

State Capitol Set To Reopen To The Public

May 4, 2021
News Service of Florida

After nearly 14 months of being closed to the public, the Florida Capitol will reopen this week ahead of a special legislative session on gambling.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, made the announcement Monday, but it’s not clear if other parts of state government will follow a public-health advisory by Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to open back up as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Gov. DeSantis Signs Bill To Suspend All COVID Emergency Orders

May 3, 2021

Governor Ron DeSantis suspended all local government coronavirus emergency orders on Monday, as he signed a bill that makes permanent his ban on COVID-19 vaccine passports.

While the governor’s executive order won’t block businesses from requiring customers to socially distance or wear face masks, DeSantis declared void local restrictions and said COVID-19-related fines cannot be collected by local governments.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on businesses across the board, both in Northwest Florida and elsewhere. But when it comes to minority-owned firms, the hit is even more devastating. 

One year ago – before the pandemic shifted into high gear – the Pensacola area’s Black and other minority-owned businesses were looking very promising.

Sabai Thai/Courtesy Photo

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major negative impact on business and commerce nationwide – most acutely felt by companies owned by merchants of color. 

According to the Haas Business Center at the University of West Florida, there are about 58,000 businesses in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton Counties.  Of those, about 3,200 – or roughly 5.5% – are owned by merchants of color.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

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.

Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Wednesday, April 21

Walk-In Vaccine Clinic in Cantonment Thursday

Community Health Northwest Florida is hosting a walk-in vaccine clinic Thursday, April 22 for the first dose of the Moderna vaccine in Cantonment. The clinic will be 8 a.m.-2 p.m. at the 4-H Office, located at 3730 Stefani Rd. All eligible participants are asked to bring a photo I.D. No appointment is required. 

Florida Blue Offering Rides To Vaccine Sites 

City of Pensacola


More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson is optimist that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, given fewer local cases and ramped-up vaccinations.

First the numbers, during the mayor’s weekly news conference at City Hall. One area spent the past few days on something of a roller-coaster.

“We’re looking at our positivity rate; we have had an increase but we’re still under 10%,” the mayor said. “April 9 was 7.45; April 8 was 4.8, April 7 was 6.38, April 6 was 2.55.”

DeSantis Assails YouTube For Removing COVID-19 video

Apr 12, 2021
News Service of Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday railed against YouTube and Google for removing a video of a COVID-19 discussion he had with scientists who oppose government lockdowns, school closures and mask wearing, calling it “censorship.”

The ramped-up criticism by the Republican governor came as lawmakers try to work out details of a bill that takes aim at tech companies, an issue that DeSantis championed as one of his top priorities for this year’s legislative session.

Coronavirus Live Blog: Week Of April 5

Apr 8, 2021
Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Thursday, April 8

State Adds 7,939 Cases, 86 Deaths

The state reported an additional 7,939 infections Thursday, according to the FDOH report. An additional 86 deaths were also reported, including one from Okaloosa County. No additional deaths were reported in Escambia, Santa Rosa or Walton counties. 

Local numbers:

Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Friday, April 2

State Adds 6,490 Cases, 96 Deaths

The state adding 6,490 infections according to Friday's FDOH report. An additional 96 deaths were also reported, four of which from local areas: two in Escambia County and two in Okaloosa County. 

Local numbers:

Community Health NWFL

Work continues on getting the COVID vaccine in the arms of the western Panhandle’s communities of color, through a team effort of clergy, officials, and the Community Health Northwest Florida on Jordan Street in Pensacola and Stewart Street in Milton.

“Originally, we did experience some pushback; there were some questions about the vaccine – you know, is it safe?” said Sandra Donaldson, the clinic’s Chief Advocacy Officer.

She says historically, communities of color have faced uncertainties when it comes to having faith in the healthcare system.

Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Friday, March 26

Uptick In Deaths Statewide, Locally

After a lower average of daily deaths reported, the state reported 167 deaths Friday, up from earlier in the week. The state also added 5,750 infections. Locally, nine deaths were reported. Five in Escambia County, one in Santa Rosa, one in Okaloosa and two in Walton. 

Local numners:

Phil Roeder/Flickr

Vaccination rates for African Americans in Northwest Florida do not come close to the number of Black people living there. That according to numbers from the Florida Department of Health.

About 2.5 million Floridians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to DOH. But Pensacola’s communities of color appear to lag behind.

“I think that we’ve made very, very good progress,” said Rev. Marcel Davis, head pastor of Adoration for a New Beginning in Brownsville.

City of Pensacola

Gov. Ron DeSantis brought his COVID-19 vaccination update to Pensacola Tuesday morning, reminding the Panhandle that the shots are now available to everyone over the age of 50.

“Most of the Panhandle counties are about two-thirds of the seniors – some of them more – that have gotten shots,” said DeSantis. “Obviously this is open to 50-plus, but we hope there will be more remaining seniors come here.”

Could there be some light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel in Pensacola? That appears to be the belief of Mayor Grover Robinson, who shared the latest numbers Monday.

“Cases – the positivity rate is 3.85%  from March 20 in Escambia County; that’s down significantly from before, although we’ve been at 2.52 – 2.52 and 1.33 on the 19th,” said Robinson.

Speaking at a now-reopened City Hall, the mayor added that hospitalizations at the three major hospitals – Baptist, West Florida and Ascension-Sacred Heart – are continuing to remain under 30.

Phil Roeder/Flickr

Beginning today, COVID-19 vaccinations are available to more Floridians, after the state drops the minimum age from 65. 

And more age reductions are on the horizon.

“I’m going to sign the executive order this morning lowering the age to 50 effective Monday; we’ll see how it goes next week,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis in making the announcement on Friday, after a reduction to age 60 last week.

Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Friday, March 18

Vaccine Eligibility Age Lowerd To 50

In a press conference Friday morning, Gov. DeSantis announced he's lowered the age of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to 50. Watch the press conference here:

Florida Capitol Doors Won't Swing Open Soon

Mar 15, 2021
News Service of Florida

The Florida Capitol is expected to remain largely closed to the public for the rest of the legislative session because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as lawmakers get more comfortable meeting face to face.

Despite new COVID-19 cases trending down from late fall and early winter and the federal government increasing vaccine supplies to the state, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, doesn’t anticipate lifting health precautions before the scheduled April 30 end of the session.



At the Statehouse, major legislation intended to shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to COVID-19 is headed to the full Senate after its Rules Committee this week merged two bills into one lengthy proposal.

One bill dealt with liability of health-care providers; the other initially deals only with liability of non-health care businesses. Sponsor Jeff Brandes (BRAND - iss) describes the decision to roll the bills into one measure as a strategic move, as negotiations move forward with House leaders.

Office of Governor Ron DeSantis

Local governments in Florida and their ability to strictly enforce measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are being targeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis’ executive order issued late Wednesday requires local governments to cancel fines issued for violating local COVID-19 orders between March 1, 2020 and this past Wednesday.

Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Thursday, March 11

Daily COVID Update

The state added 5,065 cases and 96 deaths according to Thursday's FDOH report. Of those 96 deaths, five were from local areas: one in Escambia, three in Santa Rosa and one in Okaloosa.

  • Escambia added 24 cases and has a 2.19% positivity rate
  • Santa Rosa added 22 cases and has a 5.60% positivity rate
  • Okaloosa added 29 cases and has a 6.54% positivity rate
  • Walton added 12 cases and has a 5.29 positivity rate

Coronavirus Pandemic: One Year Later

Florida Lowers Age For COVID Vaccine Eligibility To 60

Mar 8, 2021
Office of the Secretary of Defense

After focusing for more than two months on vaccinating seniors against COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday the state will authorize giving shots to people ages 60 and older.

The change will take effect March 15 and was announced after more than 2.64 million people ages 65 and older have been vaccinated.

“As the demand has softened a little bit, as fortunately more than 50 percent of seniors in almost all of our major counties have received at least one shot, we will open it up to 60 to 64 as well,” DeSantis said during a news conference Monday at the Capitol.

Coronavirus Live Blog: Week Of March 1

Mar 7, 2021
Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Sunday, March 7

State Reports Lowest Death Increase In Months

After averaging around 130 additional deaths per day, the state reported 66 deaths in Sunday's FDOH report. No additional deaths from local areas. The state also added 4,098 infections.

Lisa Ferdinando/Department of Defense

Vaccine distribution and cracking down on protests are among the issues facing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and the Legislature on Thursday.

As the governor travels the state boasting of Florida’s “seniors-first” policy, Democratic leaders are calling for investigations into the allocation of coveted COVID-19 vaccinations Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is asking for an FBI investigation into the issue.

“I will not stand by and let our vaccines be used as political gain, and to be auctioned to the highest bidders while so many of our Floridians are suffering.”


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis helped open the annual legislative session with his State of the State Address. He reflected as much on the past year as he did his priorities for 2021.

“One year ago, COVID-19 had not yet been declared a global pandemic,” the governor began his remarks. He then touted his response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Meda

High school students interested in becoming involved in their community, learning about local government and honing their leaderships skills are invited to join the Pensacola Youth Council, a new program being launched by the city of Pensacola.

Coronavirus Live Blog: Week Of Feb. 22

Feb 28, 2021
Mayra Heitman/WUWF

Sunday, Feb. 28

State Adds 5,539 Cases, 126 Deaths

Florida added 5,539 infections according to Sunday's FDOH report and 126 deaths. Locally, there were no additional deaths reported. 

Local numbers:

  • Escambia added 52 cases and has a 4.71% positivity rate
  • Santa Rosa added 50 cases and has a 12.07% positivity rate
  • Okaloosa added 60 cases and has a 11.60% positivity rate
  • Walton added 11 cases and has a 5.63% positivity rate

Saturday, Feb. 27


With the 2021 legislative session starting next week, state lawmakers are fast-tracking a proposal to protect Florida businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits.

It appears easier said than done — that along with shielding the state’s long-term care industry at the same time — the latter proving to be more difficult. The extent of the liability protections, and whether all long-term care facilities should be shielded from lawsuits, are some of the issues that lawmakers will have to consider.

City of Pensacola via Facebook

LEDE: Health officials say more than 30,000 Floridians have died of COVID-19, but hospitalizations and cases have continued to drop -- including in Northwest Florida, according to Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson. 

During his weekly virtual news conference Monday morning, Robinson lauded declines in overall cases and hospitalizations in the past few days. Over that time, cases have dipped to below the seven percent threshold.