Thanks to Douglasville, Georgia mayor Rochelle Robinson, I nearly had a car accident during a late September drive from Villa Rica to Douglasville. Really!
You see, I was locked into NPR’s (National Public Radio) “Closer Look” program moderated by Rose Scott when she mentioned that a mayor Rochelle Robinson interview was forthcoming shortly with a focus on Douglasville’s measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
I was like, huh, no way could that be the Rochelle Robinson I know… and surely not on NPR! Nope, no way.
But I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Announced Rose Scott, “Cobb and Douglas County are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. Douglasville Mayor Rochelle Robinson discusses the city’s ongoing response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and increase vaccinations.”
Now because of the tail gating and blaring horn in the truck behind me it was clear that my slow down and diverted attention came dangerously close to my being rear ended. So I exited the road as the ticked off driver sped by while flashing me the courtesy of a “middle finger salute.”
Live, unscripted and without talking points, Mayor Robinson started off urging listeners to follow the science, talk facts and not theory when it comes to responses to this deadly pandemic.
For the next 45 minutes laced with lighthearted humor, sistah-to-sistah repartee and topic seriousness, Robinson cited specific examples of the city’s responses to COVID-19, with rarely a second elapsing between rapid fire questions and her convincing answers.
“Sure, I’ve heard people say that the government can’t tell them what to do. Well, my husband, who is a great driver, is capable of driving at a speed of 150 miles an hour, yet the government-imposed speed limit may be 30, 45 or 70. So yes, the government can tell you what to do, otherwise you may get a speeding ticket.”
A child of the sixties and mother of three college aged offspring, Robinson reminded listeners that vaccinations were required to stop the spread of polio and other diseases back then. However, she was quick to acknowledge that mistrust of vaccinations is understandable because of concerns that vaccines were developed too quickly or because of results from the Tuskegee experiment when Black men were used as Guinea pigs.
“I also feel that the racial tensions sweeping the nation over the past year has heightened mistrust.”
Who do people trust? “The paradigm depends on the individual,” said Robinson.” That trusted person may be a minister, family member, or someone from the medical community.”
Robinson pointed out that Douglasville weathered the storm because an infusion of Federal funds and monies from the CARES Act which provided rental assistance plus help from other organizations.
“The effectiveness of our collaboration across the county helped our small businesses stay afloat and assisted residents in paying utilities, water and other necessities. We provided incentives to employees to get vaccinated with $100 gift cards on separate Saturdays and had huge turnouts on both days.”
Although there continues to be some pushback on vaccinations and mask mandates, the indisputable fact is that vaccinations and mask mandates work, stressed Robinson.
“Although I’m cautiously optimistic about our future, we fully intend to not take our foot off the accelerator until this pandemic is behind us. That includes continued enforcement of our initiatives including opening more testing sites, more public service announcements, readers, signs and mailings to citizen homes.”
No doubt, a COVID related rise in homelessness is alarming, admits a deeply concerned Robinson.
“Unfortunately, it’s a problem that will probably get worse before it gets better. We’re utilizing all resources, including The United Way, Salvation Army, temporary housing, retrofitting trailers previously used by schools, and other support systems to assist our homeless citizens. We have not and will not ignored the needs of our citizens.”
Saving the best for last, the city’s response to COVID-19 aside, Rochelle shared with considerable pride about how her city never came close to shutting down during the pandemic.
“Although I had to shut down things by executive order for a while, we did well with Parks and Rec for example and will continue to move the needle forward with our planned amphitheater and infrastructure initiatives. I credit that to some great people and a caring community.”
Although not asked to grade efforts so far in responding to COVID, Robinson said, “We have 42% of our citizens fully vaccinated and 48% having received one dose, both lagging behind state and national percentages. I am not pleased at all with those percentages.
So, I would give us an F” until we have achieved a B. We need at least a B grade to reach herd immunity. Again, we won’t take our foot off the accelerator until we are on the other side of this virus.”
Robinson’s departing message? “Be smart. Follow the science. Protect yourself and your right to be healthy.”
With that I got back on the road and continued my trip back to Douglasville.
Oh, yes, back to the headline at the beginning of this piece; do not interpret it as a hope, hint or expectation that Mr. and Mrs. Robinson will be packing their bags to head north to join the Biden administration anytime soon; but rather it’s a nightmarish thought if ever there was one.
Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The Douglas County Sentinel, The BlackMarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.