by Jeremy Morrison
State Rep. Alex Andrade and Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson conducted a joint, online town hall Wednesday evening, where the two officials spoke about issues pertaining to the COVID-19 coronavirus and associated social distancing measures currently in place. Many of the questions asked by constituents concerned exactly when and how the region might begin reopening.
“I think going forward we can absolutely find ways to open up,” said Mayor Robinson, cautioning that the city would be tying any loosening of social distancing closures to virus-related data as the weeks unfold and also be coordinating with other local governments in the region. “We’re not going to sacrifice safety.”
Rep. Andrade said an organic, phased reopening is likely, pointing to state-level orders that would soon expire.
“I think we’re going to start seeing some of these executive orders lapse without being re-upped,” he said.
Robinson reiterated a couple of criteria he has previously said should be of top consideration when considering reopening: the capacity of both local hospitals and first responders.
“If we can stay on top of those two things I think we can manage the process,” the mayor said.
But Robinson told town hall viewers they shouldn’t expect an immediate reopening, noting the phased plan being handed down from the federal level and the potential for cues from the state as well.
“Some things will not open on May 1, or even in phase one,” he said.
In response to a question, the mayor said that he thought a phased reopening could begin soon despite the fact that the area saw a dramatic jump in COVID cases recently. He said the recent spike was specifically due to increased and concentrated testing in elderly care facilities, which are considered areas with dense populations of high-risk individuals.
“The people who all the spike went up on, they’re not in the regular public,” Robinson said, pointing to a “very low positive rate in the general population.”
Also discussed during the town hall was the issue of the state budget and how shutdown measures might impact it. Rep. Andrade said that this year’s budget — which includes items such as recent pay increases for teachers — is probably safe.
“We will be able to keep the overall budget intact,” he said, noting that next year’s budget might better reflect the impact of the virus — “there are going to be things we’er going to have to account for in the future.”
Town hall questioners also inquired about the state’s unemployment website, which has been plagued with problems as record number of recently unemployed individuals attempt to access services.
“It’s no secret now, especially after last week,” Andrade said, “the website wasn’t built for the traffic we’re seeing now.”
The representative noted recent changes that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has made to the unemployment website, including a dashboard which allows users to monitor the number of applications the department has processed.
Andrade also told constituents that they should call him directly if they were hitting a brick wall with DEO. The representative provided his personal cell phone number: 850.462.4776.
“Now that you’ve put the challenge out, I guess I have to give my phone number out,” Mayor Robinson said, before providing his own digits: 850.554.2178.
One of the lighter moments in the town hall concerned the use of masks, which the officials encouraged people to use to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. Mayor Robinson noted his son — who tested positive for COVID-19 and was previously quarantined — had a homemade mask that someone had made him, while he himself was sporting a standard issue version around city hall.
“I feel boring with just my blue mask,” Robinson said. “Everyone else has one that shows who they are.”