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Crowded Ybor concert could be a sign for Labor Day weekend

With no mask enforcement for large gatherings, some officials worry Labor Day will bring a spike in coronavirus cases.
Rapper Moneybagg Yo performs to a sold out crowd of hundreds at the Cuban Club on August 29, 2020 in Ybor City. The event had signage reminding patrons of social distancing and to wear face coverings.
Rapper Moneybagg Yo performs to a sold out crowd of hundreds at the Cuban Club on August 29, 2020 in Ybor City. The event had signage reminding patrons of social distancing and to wear face coverings. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 31, 2020
Updated Aug. 31, 2020

Popular rap artist Moneybagg Yo performed Saturday before a crowd packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the courtyard of the Cuban Club in Ybor City, a crowd that ignored pleas to wear masks or maintain social distance.

Images from the show are making some local officials wince over the coming private Labor Day parties.

The city of Tampa has an executive order that requires people wear face coverings while inside businesses. It carries a penalty of up to a $500 fine. But Saturday’s concert in Ybor was held outdoors and on private property. A city spokeswoman said they could not enforce coronavirus orders as long as there was no alcohol sold at the event.

“The event planned at the Cuban Club was entirely on private property, and based on the agreed upon conditions and limitations, the event technically meets the requirements of the governor’s executive order,” city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said. “The city cannot prevent this event from being held.”

Related: Rapper Moneybagg Yo performs before packed crowd in Ybor City

Photos taken at the event by a Tampa Bay Times photographer show a large crowd packed in the outdoor area, with fans standing close. Despite signs that mandated the wearing of masks and practice of social distancing, very few people were seen wearing face coverings.

Looking forward to the Labor Day weekend, what are the responsibilities of local governments or the event organizers?

Rapper Moneybagg Yo performs to a sold out crowd of hundreds at the Cuban Club on August 29, 2020 in Ybor City. The event had signage reminding patrons of social distancing and to wear face coverings.
Rapper Moneybagg Yo performs to a sold out crowd of hundreds at the Cuban Club on August 29, 2020 in Ybor City. The event had signage reminding patrons of social distancing and to wear face coverings. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Tom DeGeorge, the owner of Crowbar in Ybor City, was incensed that the city allowed the Saturday concert to happen.

He said he spent the week leading up to it peppering city officials with questions to explain why this show could go on while his and other bars were ordered closed.

“This is disgusting. We are told this is an emergency and small business owners are losing everything because people are dying,” DeGeorge said. “If this was a house that was on fire and people in there said ‘We don’t care,’ the fire department would be dragging those people out.”

Crowbar has been closed since mid-March and was close to reopening when the order for bars to close came through in July. Now DeGeorge is spending money to add a kitchen so he can possibly reopen in the fall.

Before the pandemic, Crowbar was a popular live music venue, putting on close to 300 shows a year. He said a mismanaged show like this hurts the broader message that you can put on a safe concert, where the audience is seated or limited to a third of its usual capacity to allow distancing.

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“This is a disaster,” DeGeorge said. “There’s things that we can do and still be safe, but now we are only regulating the people who do this for a living.”

In an email to the city attorney, Cuban Club president Patrick Manteiga said there was a detailed plan to reduce attendance, take temperatures upon entry and require face masks. That did happen for most of the night, he said, until it was riddled by rainstorms.

At 9:45 p.m., just before the headliner took the stage, “attendees were drenched along with their masks,” Manteiga said. “At that moment, the rain was over but people in their sectioned areas as well as the people who surrounded them were without dry masks, causing many to shed their masks, as they were not required when in their designated socially distanced areas.”

Images of the concert captured a “finite moment” that was not indicative of the whole event, Manteiga said.

Hillsborough County Commission chairman Les Miller said the images from the concert showed “total disregard and irresponsibility” by the organizers and the concertgoers. But even though the city and county have executive orders about the size of crowds and face masks and social distancing, Miller said there’s little they can do when it comes to enforcement.

“They are not going to bother wearing masks or keep their distance,” Miller said, “and those young people are going to take it home to their parents or grandparents. The next thing you know someone will be on respirator.”

Even when there is a gathering, there is little local officials have been willing to do on the spot. Police agencies in recent weeks have reported they have been peppered with complaints about unmasked groups in parks or businesses.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which hasn’t issued citations, has said it is focused on educating the public.

Related: Mask rules spur hundreds of calls to police

“All of our COVID-19 ordinances are in full effect, and will continue to be so through Labor Day weekend,” said Ben Kirby, spokesman for the city of St. Petersburg. “Restaurants remain at 50 percent occupancy and bars are closed.”

The enforcement arm, for the most part, has been code enforcement. St. Petersburg has fined more than 100 businesses for violating its citywide mask order.

Some bars and restaurants have lost liquor licenses because state officials found them in violation of coronavirus orders.

Related: Pegasus Lounge has liquor license suspended over coronavirus order

Cities and counties have different rules and levels of enforcement, but in general most will issue a civil citation, and businesses are under no obligation to enforce the mask rule.

Looking ahead to Labor Day weekend, Miller said, “People are going to have parties with no masks, and no social distancing. I just think we are looking at another explosion of cases.”

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