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ST. PETERSBURG — The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg remains on track to run this weekend, despite two positive coronavirus cases in Pinellas County and nationwide conversations about limiting crowds at sporting events. Mayor Rick Kriseman said Thursday that general admission has been canceled and the event could be canceled all together by Thursday afternoon.
“Public health and the safety of our community are always priority No. 1,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said at a track-side news conference Wednesday morning. “But we also need to make sure that we’re not panicking. We need to go about our lives, at least until we have data that suggests otherwise.”
Race and city officials say the data tells them that the area is at low risk, that there has been no community spread and that Pinellas’ positive cases had limited contact with others. That means the Grand Prix —one of Tampa Bay’s biggest annual sporting events and a crown jewel of the IndyCar Series — is expected to go on as scheduled.
Organizers are increasing the number of hand-washing stations around the downtown street course. They’re also disinfecting commonly touched surfaces like handrails more often and adding hand-sanitizing stations and a pair of multi-fauceted hand-washing trailers. Finally, they’re encouraging fans to make common-sense efforts if they are ill or have recently traveled to China, Italy, Iran or South Korea.
"If you don’t feel well, please stay home and watch the race on NBC Sports Network,” Kriseman said. “You’ll still see the race, and you can see how beautiful we look on TV.”
One of the most radical ideas — holding the event without spectators — had not been seriously discussed as of Wednesday, Grand Prix co-owner Kevin Savoree said then.
“There have been no conversations at all about (it), other than the 16th annual Firestone Grand Prix is on,” Savoree said. “If that situation changes, then we’ll deal with it."
Savoree said the Grand Prix does not have insurance that covers the outbreak or its effects on the race.
The announcement came two days before most on-track activity begins and four days before the main event, Sunday’s IndyCar season opener. It also comes a day after the two Pinellas coronavirus cases were announced and as officials around the country are discouraging large public events.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced it would hold all upcoming championship events — including March Madness — with only essential personnel and limited family in attendance. The NBA suspended the season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive. Washington will prohibit all events with more than 250 people in three counties in and around Seattle, forcing the Mariners to figure out alternate plans for their opening series.
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The College Basketball Invitational announced its third-tier tournament will not take place this postseason, and a federal health official told Congress that large crowds should not congregate, even if that means playing NBA games without fans in the stands.
Unlike basketball games, auto racing takes place outside rather than in a confined space. Grand Prix spectators are spread out along the 1.8-mile, 14-turn course.
Although almost every state is represented in the crowd, Savoree said most attendees live within 75 miles of the track. The race has claimed record crowds each of the last two years, with the 2019 attendance estimated at almost 140,000.
“I think we’re going to provide — I know we’re going to provide — a safe environment for a great race...” Savoree said. “I hope everybody comes out to watch it because they’re going to put on a hell of a show.”
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