The day after the Tampa Bay Lightning brought home the Stanley Cup, clinching the first professional sports title for the region since 2004, Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Tom Brady tweeted: ”How does one do socially distant parades??”
It became clear Wednesday — you don’t.
A boat parade through downtown Tampa drew thousands of Lightning fans, many packed shoulder-to-shoulder along the river’s edge. They drank and chatted, some wearing masks, some with them down around their chins or none at all. When the players got off the boats at Rick’s on the River, video showed fans drinking out of the Stanley Cup. Afterward at Raymond James Stadium, an estimated 11,000 people filled the stands to celebrate, mostly spread apart.
During a press conference Tuesday, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan reminded fans to wear masks and social distance. He said the department would rely on people to be “responsible citizens” and follow best practices. But the reality was a different story.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement that the Lightning championship deserved to be celebrated. She said by having fans outside at both the boat parade and the socially distanced celebration at Raymond James Stadium, they created a fun and safe way for fans to be involved. She did not wear a mask during the stadium celebration.
“This was a season like no other, and a year like no other — so we knew that our championship celebrations needed to be different, too,” Castor said.
Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said the team was proud to share the Stanley Cup win with fans over the last two days and worked with the city, county and other local leaders to create safe events.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support displayed across our community for our players and for the sacrifices they made to win the Cup at such a difficult time," Wickett said in an emailed statement. "To honor our team and the Stanley Cup’s first trip back to Tampa Bay in 16 years, we worked diligently with the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and others to create socially distant, outdoors celebrations, spread out over two miles on the Tampa Riverwalk and at a less than 20 percent of capacity at Raymond James Stadium.”
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But being outdoors isn’t a “magic wand” to stop the spread of coronavirus, especially if there’s a large gathering of people who aren’t wearing masks or wearing them properly, said Cindy Prins, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida.
“We’re always concerned when there’s a lack of masks that’s why we’ve spent months educating individuals to wear them when they’re unable to socially distance,” said Ashley Bauman, a spokeswoman for the City of Tampa in a text message to a Tampa Bay Times reporter.
Though being outdoors is safer than being indoors, there are still opportunities for people to interact with someone who may be positive, Prins said. A Georgia Institute of Technology risk-assessment model estimates there’s more than a 99 percent chance of at least one person with COVID-19 being present at a gathering of more than 500 people in Hillsborough County.
Protective measures like washing hands, wearing masks and staying distant do help if people are in fact following these guidelines, public health experts have said. But singing, yelling or chanting — the kinds of things people celebrating often do — can also put more respiratory droplets in the air and create heightened risk.
“It is hard to maintain and control some of those behaviors in a large group,” Prins said.
Even while fans were seated apart from one another in the stadium, there are opportunities to come into closer contact on the way to the bathroom or when eating or drinking, said Jay Wolfson, a distinguished service professor of public health at the University of South Florida.
“The calculus is proximity, time and number of people,” he said. “Droplets can still get you and the vaporized virus can still get you at a greater distance. If there’s a crowd, then it kind of hangs around that area. The larger the crowd, the greater the probability that someone in that group is positive, including asymptomatically.”
Wolfson also pointed out that while the number of new infections in Florida and the Tampa Bay region has declined, the amount of testing has, too. The effect from reopening bars and schools remains to be seen.
Erica Strand was excited to celebrate the Lightning’s Stanley Cup win with other fans in downtown Tampa. Strand, 41, said she felt safe because the event was outside and thought mask-wearing and social distancing would be practiced.
Stand said she, her husband and their young son stood “elbow-to-elbow” with other fans as more people crowded along the river. A group of college-aged people stood behind them, drinking, chanting and cheering. Strand said she was nervous because young people have been identified as some of the main spreaders of the virus.
“I wish that more people were wearing masks and at least trying to social distance,” she said.
Joe D’Angelo did not attend the boat parade, but snagged a ticket for the Raymond James Stadium rally. The 56-year-old runs a fan group called Tampa Bay Thunderstrikers Inc. and hosts a weekly radio show about the team. He said he felt organizers did a good job keeping everyone 6 feet apart and enforcing mask-wearing. But he said a few fans were caught on the Jumbotron without their masks on.
“I felt safe and never did I worry about whether it was going to be safe or not,” he said.
Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health at USF, said leaders reinforcing best public health practices through their own behavior is important.
Some Lightning players had on masks, but few had them by the time they reached the stadium. During the boat parade, players passed around the Stanley Cup as they drank from it. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was also in attendance at the stadium rally, did wear a mask.
“Any opportunity people in leadership have to demonstrate the behaviors that make a difference is a great opportunity to get our routine message out,” Levine said. “And it’s going to need to be reinforced over the coming months because everyone is tired of COVID-19 in one way, shape or form.”
Times staff writers C.T. Bowen, Charlie Frago and Josh Solomon contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a new attendance figure from the city of Tampa.
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