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Pensacola Mayor Discusses His City's COVID-19 Response


Late last month, Mayor Grover Robinson ordered his city's residents to wear masks when in public or doing business. And I asked him whether that order has made a difference.

GROVER ROBINSON: I think we're easily - 75% of the people are complying. Our problem is that we're just a very small part. What we really need is Escambia County and Santa Rosa County to also institute that. We would be much more effective. You know, again, it's unfortunate that some of this has been politicized. But at the end of the day, this is about doing what's right and safe.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let me ask you about that because on Friday, 12 members of Florida's congressional delegation asked Governor Ron DeSantis to mandate mask-wearing statewide and impose targeted stay-at-home orders. Do you think that that's warranted?

ROBINSON: I will say this much for the governor. He's got a huge amount of space (ph) to deal with, and he's got differing results in different conditions in different communities. I believe I should have the authority and the responsibility if I see problems in my community that I shouldn't have to lean on the governor to make me do what's right. It should be up to me and my local area to take care of my local citizens.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But we know that this is a pandemic, and people move around. People go from place to place. Shouldn't everyone be on the same page so that everyone can stay safe?

ROBINSON: It's on all of us. Each of us has to think globally but act locally. I'm a Republican. We run a - I have a nonpartisan area, but it didn't stop me from saying that we need to do an ordinance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are now over 5,000 people infected in Escambia County, over 260 hospitalized and almost 60 people who have died. That is a dramatic shift from where you were before. You spoke to NPR back in May. I'd like to take a listen.


ROBINSON: The good news is, for us, at least, we've never really had our hospitals get overrun, and we continue to keep watching that every day. Right now, we have 13 people in the hospital with coronavirus. That's easily within the capacity of what our hospitals can handle.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know that that was a different moment in time. Where are you now with hospital capacity?

ROBINSON: I will say right now we have 202 in the hospitals. So we are pushing capacity. We have one hospital in West Florida that has said they will not do elective surgery. The other ones have put in the policy where you can't even go visit loved ones in the hospital because of the issues with COVID. So I'll say one thing about the governor. He's come here. And when he's come here, he wears a mask. He understands that we have an agreement here, and he wears it by what the protocol is of the community he goes to. I had no problem with...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But mayor, the very basic fact that you have to celebrate the governor wearing a mask, which is one of the most basic things that health officials are telling people to do, would imply that perhaps more could be done. There is a battle - is there not? - in this country over basic health guidelines.

ROBINSON: Well, again...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Governor DeSantis has, some would argue, muzzled his state's surgeon general. He's disputed basic science on the pandemic. What do you think needs to happen to get this under control in the state of Florida? - because, as you rightly mentioned, people are tired, and they see that other countries have handled this better.

ROBINSON: Well, I think it would help if we could have a cohesive plan and then execute that. And I think the cohesive plan should be, hey, if your community hits a red hot spot, your local government should come to the aid of their citizens and, before that happens, go ahead and institute. I mean, those are things that could have been nice in working through it. But at the end of the day, I don't think it relieves the responsibility. If I can do it here in the city, there's no excuse that my local jurisdictions that surround me can't do the same thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We know that young people do have serious outcomes. We've heard from the family of Halene O'Connell, who lives in the Panhandle, who is 16. She ended up on a ventilator. Do you worry that more people, young people could get sick and have long-term complications from this serious illness?

ROBINSON: I'm the father of a 23-year-old and a 19-year-old. My 23-year-old has had COVID. So no, I absolutely am concerned about what happens in that age group. I do think that those precautions need to be taken care of. I know my son is very cautious after having already had it before. My daughter - she understands the need to wear a mask, and she does that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what would your message be?

ROBINSON: Again, what I continue to talk to health care providers here - wash your hands regularly. Social distance. Wear a mask when you're in public places. Avoid the three Cs - the congestion, crowded spaces and closed areas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson.

Thank you very much.

ROBINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.