Tampa Convention Center had coronavirus patient, but events there may continue

A search is underway to determine whether people attending an emergency medical services event had contact with the individual.
Someone attending an emergency medical services conference last week at the Tampa Convention Center came down with coronavirus.
Someone attending an emergency medical services conference last week at the Tampa Convention Center came down with coronavirus. [ Times (1998) ]
Published March 12, 2020|Updated March 12, 2020

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TAMPA — A conference last week at the Tampa Convention Center brought together hundreds of emergency medical personnel and professionals to discuss the latest innovations in keeping people safe.

Now, firefighters, paramedics, fire chiefs and emergency management officials from around the country are wondering whether they were infected with coronavirus during the March 2-6 sessions. Someone from Broward County attending the event fell ill with the disease.

The individual, described only as 70, will remain in isolation until he is cleared by health officials. The state said an “epidemiological investigation” has been launched to determine how the virus was contracted.

Related: Florida has six new coronavirus cases with links to Tampa conference, Daytona Bike Week

As coronavirus spreads across the United States, it could spell doom for conventions.

In the next 12 days, the Convention Center is scheduled to host at least three events that could attract more than 8,000 people. Mayor Jane Castor said Thursday that talks are underway to determine whether to cancel the gatherings.

Abel Beyene, director of the Great American Franchise Expo on March 14-15, said it will still take place.

“We’re moving forward with the event,” he said. An estimated 800 people are scheduled to attend. “The Convention Center is open for business.”

Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested Thursday that cities and counties should postpone or cancel any mass gatherings over the next 30 days in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus in Florida.

If a mass gathering is not canceled, event organizers should have screening measures in place to prevent people who have been exposed to the virus from entering, DeSantis said.

AJ Joseph, president of JVC Tournaments, said he is waiting to hear from city officials and leaders of Visit Tampa Bay on whether Joseph Volleyball-Molten Qualifier will go forward at the Convention center on March 21-22. More than 7,000 are estimated to attend.

On March 24-25, 800 retailers, developers, and real estate brokers are slated to attend the West Florida Idea Exchange.

Last week’s 2020 EMS Today Conference & Expo was organized by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services and its sister firm Clarion Events in Connecticut. More than 200 companies from around the world were listed as vendors on the event website.

The conference for first responders was expected to draw more than 4,600 but the figure was closer to 550, said city of Tampa spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

Bobby Halton, a Clarion Events vice president, disputed that, saying the organizers were working with state officials Thursday before contacting “several thousand” people who were there.

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A statement the firm sent to everyone who attended warned about the virus symptoms and said the state may contact each person individually.

At least 12 employees of St. Petersburg Fire Rescue attended the event, Lt. Steven Lawrence said. As of noon on Thursday, the department was working to determine whether any of them came in contact with the individual from Broward County.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones said two employees attended the event but have not experienced any symptoms.

Self-quarantine has already started among emergency personnel.

Four members of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department attended the event and have opted to self-quarantine for 14 days, the city of Jacksonville said in a news release. None of the four are exhibiting any symptoms and all are in excellent health, the statement said.

Also, four Miami-Dade County firefighters have been in self-quarantine for the past eight days after attending the conference. None have shown any symptoms, an official said.

In addition, six fire personnel from the Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue Department, which serves Walt Disney World, also have been quarantined after attending the conference, the Miami Herald reported.

The city of Tampa is working with experts, including the state Department of Health, to determine how to move forward with events, spokeswoman Bauman said.

The Convention Center is being deep cleaned and disinfected, Bauman said.

“We are currently assessing our scheduled events,” she said, “and will share updates as decisions are made to protect the best interest of our community.”

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