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Large Beach Crowds In Florida Turn Out For Holiday Weekend


It is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, and people have been taking advantage of the long weekend to flock to the beach. This comes, of course, as the country is closing in on 100,000 coronavirus deaths. The state of Florida saw large crowds gathering on beaches and boardwalks. Now, officials reminded beachgoers to adhere to social distancing rules. But of course, enforcing those kinds of rules is a challenge.

We have Grover Robinson on the line with us. He is the mayor of Pensacola, which is located in the Florida Panhandle. Mayor, thanks for being here.

GROVER ROBINSON: Happy to be here. Glad to be on. Thank you for having me on.

GREENE: So Mayor, I saw the forecast for your city today - 86 degrees with some sun. I mean, would you be encouraging your family and your friends to go to the beach?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, again, I think - I think if you're - if you're socially distanced, it's a safe place to go and safe thing to go. We were there on Saturday with a friend of mine with a boat. But you know, if you're social distanced, we've got 30-something miles of beach. You can find your own way to be separated. I think the challenge is, obviously, when we congregate. I think that you (ph) said we're trying to tell everybody what to do. But it certainly has been a challenge.

It's hard to know - obviously as we - this whole thing being a novel virus, it's hard to know - OK, what are the things that we see? What are - what happens? But I think one of the things that we're learning is certainly there are environments where you can be outside. We're trying to induce as much commerce outside. We're trying to be outside as much as we can. We continue to hear things related to UV and other stuff with the virus - doesn't spread as much.

But there's no doubt that we're continuing to try to practice social distancing, which is kind of a difficult part for some areas and for some people to understand they still need to be practicing that. So that's been...

GREENE: Well, how do...

ROBINSON: ...The challenge that we've run into.

GREENE: How do you remind people - how do authorities actually enforce social distancing? I mean, at the end of the day, it's sort of like an honor system, isn't it?

ROBINSON: It's a lot of that. I mean, what we focus on in the city - again, the beach is not our jurisdiction - but certainly in downtown, we had - we tried to bring our main street, Palafox - we tried to bring people outdoors. And we had police there to make sure, if you see the crowds gathering - I mean, that's the whole deal is to make sure you educate and tell people why we're asking you to do that and we ask you to spread. For the most part, at least at - in the city level, we've seen - we've seen good compliance and work with us. I mean, there were a few times here or there we've had challenges. We've tried to go in and educate people. But it is - you know, that's the challenge.

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. It's one of things I get - all three hospitals here in northwest Florida, I get their - I get their daily counts. Right now we have - we have - as of yesterday, we had 13 people in the hospital with coronavirus. That's easily within the capacity of what our hospitals can handle. I mean, we went (ph)...

GREENE: Well - and you obviously don't want those numbers to - you don't want those numbers to go up again. But I mean, just to get back to the enforcement, are you issuing tickets? Are you doing anything to make sure - I mean, obviously you don't want this to spread and to overwhelm your hospitals. So what - beyond telling people the idea of social distancing is important...

ROBINSON: We haven't seen - again, from our standpoint and our police - and again, I don't do Pensacola Beach. But within the city of Pensacola, we have not seen that. I've talked to my police chief about it. We've generally been able to go up and educate people and to tell them what to do, and they've willingly complied. We will continue to do that. That will be the effort that we continue to push here.

We'll work with our county commissioners out on the beach. But you know, they have a little bit of a different jurisdiction than we do. We'll continue to do our stuff. We'll let them do their stuff. And we'll try to keep working together. And we'll watch the figures where we are with the hospitalizations and keep a pulse on things. If we have to pull stuff back or do other things, that's what we're looking to do.

GREENE: Well, speaking of other things, could I ask you about these checkpoints that have opened up on Interstate 10...


GREENE: ...Screening motorists as they are coming into the state out of a concern for people coming in from places where there have - has been a substantial spread of the virus? How did these screenings work?

ROBINSON: Again, they have been working - mainly in our area, we had them bringing here the state major (ph) airports for mainly people coming from the New York area, which high concentration. For us, we have only 200 miles away is New Orleans. So from Louisiana, we've had significant concentrations. And for us, we're more worried about drive marketability from there. So we've talked with people from Louisiana. We tell them to quarantine, trying to communicate (ph)...

GREENE: You're actually asking them where they're coming from.

ROBINSON: Correct. Correct. If they're coming from New - if they're coming from Louisiana, they are given instructions that they are supposed to quarantine. They're asked where they're going to be, give an address to the state. And they - they're keeping records of those things. So it's...

GREENE: I guess you're relying on people to tell the truth.

ROBINSON: Again, that's part of it. And part of it is trying to then follow up with those kind of things. I mean, obviously, there are ways to pull in from a different area. But if you're coming in on I-10, they absolutely are there to find out who's coming in. If they're coming in from any of these states that have high concentrations, we typically don't have that many drivers from New York and those places.

GREENE: Grover Robinson is the mayor of Pensacola, Fla., speaking to us today. Mayor, thank you so much for your time.

ROBINSON: Thank you for having me on. And y'all stay safe and stay healthy. And thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.