It’s the home of the brave, all right, but with coronavirus creeping back, it might not feel like the land of the free when it comes to celebrating Independence Day.
Like most of the country, officials across the Tampa Bay area are announcing cancellations, suspensions and restrictions on most of the planned festivities for this year’s Independence Day.
Wednesday brought a flood of major event cancellations, including St. Petersburg’s waterfront fireworks display and the City of Tampa’s annual Boom by the Bay celebration. The announcements came just as the state Department of Health reported an additional 2,610 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 82,719 and deaths to 3,110.
Hillsborough County saw a record-high number of coronavirus cases for a single day with an additional 244 infections reported Wednesday morning.
“While we would have loved to celebrate the 4th of July together in person, we have to put the safety of our community first,” Mayor Jane Castor said in a news release urging residents to practice COVID-19 safety this Independence Day. “We are looking forward to an even bigger celebration next year once this virus is behind us, but we have to work together first to stop it.”
During an online appearance May 22, Castor signaled that the show likely would be canceled, saying Boom by the Bay was not being planned. The city of Clearwater also announced May 21 that it would cancel its fireworks show, one of the Tampa Bay area’s most widely attended.
In the news release, Castor urged people to continue wearing a face covering in public, washing their hands often for at least 20 seconds, keeping at least six feet from others, avoiding large gatherings, staying home, and for anyone who feels ill, getting tested for COVID 19.
Soon after the city of Tampa’s announcement Wednesday, the city of St. Petersburg took to Twitter to call off its own fireworks celebration, citing concerns over the crowds that gather each year in Straub Park.
The online announcement was followed by another tweet from St. Petersburg’s Mayor Rick Kriseman, echoing the city’s assurance that “safety is the priority.”
“Our entire waterfront parks system gets overwhelmed on July 4th,” Kriseman’s tweet said. “We’ll take a break from that this year. Public health and safety is the priority.”
Other cities that have officially canceled planned Fourth of July events include Clearwater,Gulfport, Lakeland, Largo, Redington Shores, Safety Harbor, Sarasota, Siesta Key, Tarpon Springs and Treasure Island.
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“It doesn’t matter how many police officers we have, it is not going to be fair or safe for either our citizens or our officers to deal with that situation,” Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said before the City Council voted unanimously May 21 to cancel its annual beach display. “I think it’s tragic and disappointing but I think it’s the right call.”
Yet a few Tampa Bay communities say the coronavirus hasn’t extinguished a fireworks celebration just yet.
The rockets’ red glare will still light up the night sky over North Port in Sarasota County. But this year, those hoping to get a front-row seat to the spectacle will need to put in an application with the city for a parking pass, issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
The city of North Port announced the new requirement Friday in anticipation of a huge increase in interest as more and more events in the Tampa Bay area are canceled over coronavirus concerns.
There will be no public seating. Instead, those hoping to see the fireworks up close will be required to follow social distancing guidelines by staying close to their vehicles while parked at the North Port High School stadium or nearby Butler Park fields.
Registration for city residents will open at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 25, a news release from the city said. Then, if any passes are still available, the public will be allowed to apply at noon on Monday, June 29.
And for those who don’t luck into a pass for the event, the half-hour fireworks display will be broadcast online on the North Port Parks and Rec Facebook page and timed to music on WKDW 97.5 FM.
The show will go on in Manatee County, too, officials from the cities of Palmetto and Bradenton say. The audience will just have to wait until Labor Day to see it.
The county’s annual fireworks display over the Manatee River is now planned to begin right after sunset on Sept. 7, which typically comes at about 8 p.m. Crowds are still encouraged to gather along the river banks, or on the Green Bridge, but social distancing guidelines will apply.
“Having this event on Labor Day allows us not only to be more safe and confident from a public health standpoint, but it also allows us to properly honor those whose labor kept us going through the COVID-19 crisis,” Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said.
“First responders, law enforcement, health-care worker and grocery store workers, for example – so many people kept on working through this crisis, and we are all grateful. This fireworks celebration is to honor them.
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