Escambia County keeps people in the dark on COVID

How safe are Pensacola Beach, downtown Pensacola, Cordova Mall and other parts of Escambia County?

Transparency hasn’t been a priority for Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley during his first year on the job, especially over the past three months of the COVID pandemic.

The county sends out a COVID-19 update every afternoon.  The report regurgitates state and other agency press releases and gives the statistics for total cases, deaths and hospitalizations. We also get a hospital report on room and ventilator capacity.

What we don’t get from the county is the number of new cases each day, positivity rate daily and year-to-date, median age of new cases, ICU capacity and breakdown of how many new cases are county residents, non-Florida residents and associated with local nursing homes?

We also don’t get any interpretation of the numbers or details on where the new cases are happening. For example, why are so many under 30 year-olds getting tested? We have been told they believe they’re invincible so what has prompted them to be tested?

Commissioner Doug Underhill has twice set out emails county-wide to voters downplaying the pandemic, and he even tried to argue the crisis peaked in March for Escambia County. The county administration and DOH Escambia never corrected his misleading statements.

The last county press conference on COVID was May 1. Gov. Ron DeSantis holds daily pressers. Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson holds one every Monday.

The commissioners went the entire of month of May without an update from DOH Escambia at its public meetings. DOH Escambia director Dr. John Lanza did give an update to the BCC last week – but the press wasn’t notified that he had been added to the agenda. Lanza attributed the “uptick” in cases to more testing, carpools to Panama City and families.

Since he appeared, Escambia County has add 213 new cases among its residents.  Testing didn’t increase over the past six days. Neither did carpooling.

Maybe all are fine – which would be great. But the public has a right to know the good or bad news.

How safe are Pensacola Beach, downtown Pensacola, Cordova Mall and other parts of Escambia County? The contact tracing should tell us. We need to know so the public can make informed decisions about their lives – and the SRIA and BCC can make sound decisions on community events like the Blue Angels airshow.

Maybe all are fine – which would be great. But the public has a right to know the good or bad news.

Debbie Stilphen, PIO for DOH Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, June 23  sent out an email encouraging all residents and visitors to wear masks. Nothing from DOH Escambia.  Escambia County’s update yesterday made no mention of masks.

In the past 20 years, the county’s emergency operations center has never given the citizens so little information – hurricanes, oil spill, ice storm, 200-year flood and jail explosion had more transparency.

The difference? Past county administrators didn’t put party politics ahead of the public interest. Taking care of Escambia County citizens took precedent over pleasing the governor’s office.

Past county administrators fought for the people they served.


7 thoughts on “Escambia County keeps people in the dark on COVID

  1. The Dept. of Health in Escambia County does the contract tracing. I’m not sure if citizens have to cooperate. It’s the employees that notify the employer when they test positive. The employer makes the decision to notify the other staff and the public. If there are a lot of cases in one place, DOH might step in and have the Dept. of Business Professional & Regulations get involved and might suspend their license.

  2. Just curious since you have been on the frontline of reporting Covid . Is the county obligated to do trace testing on all the employees ? For sure since you do not know me I totally think it’s the right thing to do but are they bound to by any directives front the state or any other government entity .

    For that matter do you know of any businesses that have to report a positive in the work place and requirements for them to do contact tracing . Do they even have to report the positive to the state or any government agency ?

  3. What Janice Gilley has done to destroy transparency in Escambia County is an outrage, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It astonishes me the things she is allowed to get away with, in broad daylight. County staff have referred to it as a “gulag” mentality. She runs fake investigations on employees to harass them and then drops them and pretends it wasn’t happening when word gets out. The “ethics” department seems to have been established for nothing more than to dig dirt on staff. Keith Morris now has access to all County emails–but the County Attorney’s office, of course. Gilley has consolidated public records under administration in a big show of transparency, but it’s actually just a way for her to keep tabs on records and decide what gets released and what doesn’t. But according to her, she never knows anything. What investigation? What conversation? What leak? What refusal of public record? What no trespass on homeless people during a pandemic? What lack of backup? She has repeatedly lied, in the Sunshine, about what measures she has been taking to protect staff and the public they interact with. The bus cleaning video was nothing but a hoax. She even had it mandated that bus drivers couldn’t bring their own cleaning fluids onto the buses while the County was refusing to provide it. Some departments didn’t have hand sanitizer provided until a couple of weeks ago; others had no masks available until recently (I’ve heard that under pressure from the commission she has finally started to make them available, begrudgingly). She even tried to get a disinformation campaign going that there wasn’t any positive case of covid at ECAT, and had no plans to contact trace until Michael Lowery made up lists and turned them over to the County. And she has accumulated multiple layers of expensive bureaucracy to cushion her from below so that she can deny and blame as she sees fits.

    Her administration is an absolute disaster, and it will only get worse the longer she is in that position. And the fact that covid is running away in Escambia County can be attributed in large part to her abnegation of responsibility and failure to keep watch on public health for the citizens she is supposed to serve.

  4. Completely agree, Rick. Heads in the sand as usual. Keep after them for the rest of us.

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