By Jeremy Morrison
During his weekly press conference Monday morning, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson stressed that the local COVID landscape was trending into unfavorable territory. He provided a few data points for consideration: there are now 2,809 coronavirus cases in Escambia County, the local positivity rate is north of 15 percent, and the area now has 116 hospitalizations from the illness.
“For reference, there were 46 COVID hospitalizations one week ago,” Mayor Robinson said. “So, we have gone up significantly.”
Nodding towards the area’s “substantial increases,” the mayor said that “everything seems to be mostly in a yellow state at this point,” in reference to the color-coded barometer used informally to denote the impact on hospital capacity and the percentage of local first responders sidelined by the coronavirus. Essential to staying out of the red and blunting the spread of COVID, he said, is the wearing of face masks.
“I’d like to close as few things as possible,” Robinson said, explaining how he preferred to focus on safety precautions such as the wearing of masks instead of allowing the situation to slip into red territory and measures such as shuttering businesses.
In recent weeks, as Florida began its sharp upward trend of COVID cases during phase two of the state’s reopening process, the city of Pensacola has moved to mandate mask-wearing in public businesses. Robinson recounted his recent outings around town and the uptick in people wearing the face coverings.
“Everywhere I went I really saw good mask compliance,” he said. “Everybody seemed to be in masks, and that was a good thing to see.”
Robinson said he found that employees of businesses he visited were especially grateful for the city’s recent mask order.
“Several of them pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, thanks for the ordinance,’” he relayed.
Despite the Pensacola City Council deciding that tickets could be issued to people not wearing masks at businesses, the mayor said he was unaware of any being issued yet. Instead, the city is focusing on educating people about the new requirement.
“We’ve tried to go to a few places with code enforcement,” Robinson said. “Just kind of going to places and making them aware of what the law was.”
Recently, a number of restaurants and other businesses have taken steps voluntarily to reduce the chances of contributing to the spread of the coronavirus. Some have reverted to phase one practices, such as limiting service to take-out or delivery, while others have closed up completely.
In certain instances, such as when an employee of downtown’s Restaurant Iron tested positive for COVID, businesses have alerted the public to the situation. Mayor Robinson said he wasn’t sure businesses should be compelled to make such revelations, citing privacy issues surrounding an individual’s health.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s a magic answer.”
The mayor did say that such information would seem more important when an individual worked in a field directly related to a person’s health, such as workers in senior living facilities.
“I think that will be debated as we move forward,” Robinson said of the issue.
Up, Up and Away (But, Cautiously)
Passenger numbers at the Pensacola International Airport are up from their coronavirus low point.
“We are slowly, but steadily increasing,” Mayor Robinson said.
Citing recent counts, the mayor said that passenger numbers were around 2,000 people per day. That’s well shy of the 3,400 daily passengers the airport saw pre-COVID, but many more than the 200 per-day counts seen in April.
“People are still flying, people are still traveling some,” Robinson said, cautioning that while the city wanted to see the passenger count continue to rise, there are also concerns about how an increase in air travel could worsen the COVID situation.
Last week, Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said that local schools would be starting again come August, with students returning to campuses that closed up as the coronavirus unfolded in the spring.
Although the city is requiring people to wear masks in businesses in the city limits, Superintendent Thomas noted that returning students, teachers and staff heading back to campuses within the city will not be required to wear masks. Mayor Robinson said he understood that this was the school district’s decision to make.
“Obviously, they have control over their jurisdiction and properties,” Robinson said, explaining the city’s position. “Our goal was to control what we can control.”
Robinson, whose wife is a teacher, said he understands concerns on this front and noted that the school district’s exact plan was “still up in the air.”
“We’ll see what happens and go from there,” the mayor said. “I would think they’re