Robinson explains State of Emergency

by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly

With cases of COVID increasing in the local region, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson is hoping that the city’s recently deployed state of emergency declaration inspires vigilance in observing safety measures aimed at limiting spread of the coronavirus.

“This is when we need to double up and make sure our efforts are very focused on wearing masks, washing hands, making sure we’re socially distancing, avoiding congested and enclosed places,” the mayor said. “These are all the things we’re asking.”

During his weekly press conference Monday, Mayor Robinson explained that the city’s state of emergency — declared on Nov. 10 — was in response to the rising COVID cases, and in particular to the increase in local hospitalizations related to the illness. The declaration was trigged by a jump to 78 hospitalizations, cresting the previously prescribed municipal threshold of 75. That number rose to 89 before decreasing to 86 as of Monday.

“The fact that we’ve gotten up into the eighties is cause for concern,” Robinson said.

The mayor noted that he found some comfort in the hospitalization number having dropped a bit from its high last week, drawing contrast with the COVID spike in July.

“The good news is we are seeing some stabilization, as opposed to our last spike where we just continued to keep going for about three or four weeks until we finally reached our peak at 246,” Robinson said.

While the city’s state of emergency declaration serves to sound the alarm bells about the increase in cases and hospitalizations — as well as the positivity rate, which peaked at 19.5 percent on Nov. 13 — the act appears to have little logistical impact beyond some city operations, such as the mayor’s weekly press conference being returned to a virtual realm and city staff being instructed not to attend city council meetings in person.

Mostly, the mayor said, this declaration of a state of emergency is allowing the city to focus its messaging on the issue.

“I think overall the state of emergency at least allowed us to bring attention, to bring what we have to bear with our social media and all our other media tools to try to get people’s attention, that this was the time,” Robinson said.

Ideally, Robinson said, he would like to be able to roll out a municipal mask-mandate ordinance along with the state of emergency, but the city already has such a mandate in place, as the Pensacola City Council declined to ever rescind the order that was put in place over the summer.

“I would have liked the opportunity to bring the mask mandate back and forth,” the mayor said.

Not that the city’s mask mandate carries too much weight, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order which preempts local attempts to require face coverings. But, as the mayor noted, the city may still require masks inside of businesses.

“Remember, the state is silent when it comes to businesses, so we are still enforcing the mask ordinance related to businesses,” Robinson said, adding that the city has responded to a number of complaints about businesses not requiring masks, though it has yet to employ any type of punitive measures for infractions. “You could do fines. Fortunately we haven’t had to.”

The mayor said that when local hospitalizations fall below 50 he intends to drop the city’s state of emergency, and also plans to request that council rescind its mask order so that it can be revived again and used as a management tool when the area experiences another wave of COVID increases.

“This is the third time that this has happened. And it’s probably going to happen a fourth time. This is what we are seeing, we’re seeing an ebb and flow,” Robinson said.