by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
Opening his weekly presser Monday morning, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson focused on a key element of the current COVID-19 coronavirus ordeal: fear.
“I certainly think that now is a time that echoes what FDR said, when he said that ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself,’” Mayor Robinson said. “There certainly is a lot of fear out there, it’s almost palpable, you can feel it. Whether it’s the economy or whether it’s the virus.”
Robinson asked that people not be afraid, and made assurances that the community would rebound following the virus and the measures being taken to slow its spread. As a gesture that he was afraid — “to exemplify that I don’t fear where we are and I expect us to make a full recovery” — the mayor said that he was forgoing his salary of $100,000 to help citizens currently not receiving paychecks better pay their bills with Pensacola Energy and the city’s sanitation services.
“Grant it, this isn’t going to make a tremendous drop in the bucket, but what I want to communicate to you is that I’m not afraid,” Robinson said. “If I was afraid for myself I would be doing something to retain that. But I’m not gonna ask you to lose your salary if I’m not willing to do the same at this particular time.”
The mayor’s presser this week was held at the Brownsville Community Center, where a new COVID-19 testing site has been set up. He was joined by Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, County Administrator Janice Gilley and Chandra Smiley, CEO of Community Health of Northwest Florida, which is operating the Brownsville testing site in coordination with Ascension Sacred Heart.
“I’ve got some healthcare warriors out there,” Smiley said, pointing outside towards the testing site, “that have suited up to be here for this community and for us, to be there getting us through this.”
Please Do Not Be Afraid
With Escambia County reporting 5 COVID-19 cases — far less than other areas of the state, and none of them hospitalized — Mayor Robinson said that area hospitals are not currently being strained.
“We have not seen any of the hospitals overrun at this particular time,” he said. “That’s not to say that’s not going to happen, I’m simply saying it’s not happening at this particular time.”
While other locales, where healthcare supplies like tests and masks have become limited, officials have recommended only those requiring medical attention and healthcare workers receive a COVID-19 test. Mayor Robinson said that northwest Florida did not appear to have community spread — “we’re not there yet” — and thus no need to limit testing in such a way.
“From our standpoint we need to continue to do the testing to figure out what do we have and what are we fighting. If we get to a point where we do have community spread we might very well take those actions,” Robinson said. “You’re going to see us continue to change as we hit certain thresholds, but at this point we’re not there.”
Gilley also assured that the local healthcare infrastructure was not currently at risk. She said that the state was beginning to send extra medical supplies to the area and that there were not any capacity issues thus far and that, if that became an issue, the county was currently exploring alternative venues.
“I do want folks to be aware that we do have a plan in place,” Gilley said. “So, please do not be concerned that we will run out of space for a particular treatment. Please do not have that fear. I have every confidence in the team that has been put together to work on that, they’ve already identified facilities. So, please do not be afraid if we do happen to have a mass run in terms of the need for healthcare, ok?”
Gilley declined to say which alternative venues the county was considering in case of capacity issues.
“So, the team just activated today, and I think they will be in a better position to tell you once they have actually communicated and gotten that plan together,” she said, describing the task as being in the planning phase.
Recognizing the public’s desire to have a complete picture of how the testing is transpiring, Gilley said the county is also coordinating with area hospitals and plans to provide a detailed account each day of testing progress.
“We are trying to get, for you all, a very robust report regarding the testing, because I know that’s a consistent conversation that we’re having — How many tests? How many positive? How many negative? What’s that look like?” Gilley said.
Monday was the Brownsville’s site first day of operation. Currently it’s serving drive-thru traffic which has passed through a screening process, but soon the site hopes to be able to test patients who do not have a vehicle.
In addition to the testing site, the Brownsville Community Center will serve as one of Escambia’s student meal sites, where local students can receive food daily. Commissioner May said that the testing and the meal site will be located in two separate areas.
“The food distribution will be in the back parking lot,” May said. “So, those populations will not cross paths.”
Escambia County is partnering with the Escambia County School District to provide meals to students while school is out of session. The district has five sites, and the county is jumping that number to 18.
“So, every neighborhood in Escambia County will have access to nutritional meals for children,” May said. “At most of our libraries, community centers and a majority of our schools we’ll be feeding.”
The city of Pensacola is also providing meals to youth during this break, partnering with non-profit Feeding the Gulf Coast. The meals will be served beginning March 30 at a collection of community centers: Cobb, Fricker, Gull Point and Woodland Heights. The city is also providing meals to seniors through the Bayview Senior Center; seniors must call the center, at 850.432.1474 the day before they’d want food.
The city of Pensacola is keeping its parks open, but requesting that people not gather in groups of more than 10. And also, not to play on playground equipment.
Though he acknowledged that the city was having some people gather in larger groups in parks, Mayor Robinson said he did not want to see them closed.”
“I don’t want to get to a point where I’m discouraging people from getting outdoors and doing that,” he said. “I believe that exercise and fresh air is going to be a part of how we work through this.”
The mayor said he played tennis with a few friends this past weekend. He described continued physical activity and fresh air as essential to maintaining sanity during this weird passage through uncharted territory.
I think all of us saw that we can’t just simply stay at our homes or it’s going to drive us crazy,” Robinson said. “From a mental health standpoint, we’ve got to be able to get outside and have some of the open parks. That’s why we hear you. We don’t want to close those things totally down, we want you to have access but we expect you to do it with the responsibility that we’re asking.”
The Dog Don’t Hunt
Rick’s insights: County Administrator Janice Gilley says the county has a plan. She has “every confidence in the team that has been put together to work on that.” Unfortunately, Ms. Gilley’s dog don’t hunt.
When pressed for details, she admitted her “team” was only activated Monday (remember the presser was 9 a.m. so they probably hadn’t even met yet), and “they will be in a better position to tell you once they have actually communicated and gotten that plan together.” So there was no plan when she came to the microphone. Maybe she has a hint of a plan – watch video clip.
The Ascension Sacred Heart began testing on Monday, March 16. However, the county has only begun trying to figure out how to produce a “very robust report.”