Coronavirus Florida: Video of west Pensacola block party shows more than 100 people gathered
A video showing well over 100 Pensacola residents gathered in close proximity on Easter Sunday is being shared all over the country.
The viral video was recorded on a Pensacola man's cellphone in the Attucks Court housing project, where an apparent block party took place.
The video was shared almost 46,000 times on Facebook as of noon Monday. Pensacola Police Department spokesman Officer Mike Wood said police Chief Tommi Lyter and several other officers were on the scene at Attucks Court and were encouraging the groups to disperse and practice social distancing.
Wood said it took two hours to break up the gathering.
"Chief Lyter was there the entire time," Wood said. "The officers were telling the people not only to disperse, but they were explaining social distancing to them and why it was so important."
While the officers are seen in the video wearing masks, very few of the residents in the video were wearing them.
The PPD is not instructed to write citations or make arrests in situations like these, Wood said. The protocol, as of now, is to do what officers did Sunday, which is to encourage people to separate while educating them in the process.
"We're not at that point of making arrests or writing tickets," Wood said. "That would be a decision that would come from above, it could be Chief Lyter, it could be the mayor, it could be the governor, we're just not at that point yet."
Wood added that Sunday's situation was probably the worst case of large gatherings the city has seen in the 30-plus days since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country full force.
"This one took two hours, but we've had groups before, 20 or so people playing basketball and we would go up and ask them to disperse and they did," Wood said. "Overall we haven't had a big issue with it until yesterday."
The man who recorded and shared the video on social media was not immediately available for comment Monday.
Attucks Court, a low-income apartment complex west of downtown, is not an area that the PPD is specifically seeking out and monitoring, Wood said. The goal of the department is to keep the entire city safe from spreading the virus.
"It's not just low-income housing, we're watching everywhere," Wood said. "We're watching city parks, we're watching the Bluffs, we're watching tennis courts. Anywhere where people can gather."
In his weekly virtual press conference, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said Monday that the city has closed all playgrounds and shared equipment, though all parks remain open. The city has also removed basketball hoops from its parks.
"Gov. DeSantis' safer-at-home (order) allows participation in recreational activities, we want to provide our residents opportunities to maintain a healthy lifestyle at our parks during this COVID-19 pandemic," Robinson said from his home on Monday morning. "Please remember, even in some of our parks you may see heavy parking, but we are continuing to maintain and watch all those parks to make sure people in there are conducting themselves per the order."
Wood reiterated on behalf of the PPD and the city Monday that while young people may be able to recovery quickly from coronavirus should they contract it, they risk spreading it to older, higher-risk populations by gathering in large groups the way they did Sunday.
"These were mostly young people yesterday," Wood said. "They may be able to get COVID-19 and get over it pretty well unscathed, but the problem is they don't realize how much they could be transferring it to people in their own family, their parents, their grandparents. People that are susceptible to it, and that could cause a big problem. That's the part people need to understand."
Jake Newby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8538.
This story originally published to pnj.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.