New Year’s Eve parties crowded Tampa Bay on same day Florida broke coronavirus record

Tampa Bay residents took to bars and clubs on the holiday, throwing aside coronavirus precautions.
Crowds of patrons gather on 7th ave. as they celebrate New Years Eve at nightclubs and restaurants on Friday in Ybor City.
Crowds of patrons gather on 7th ave. as they celebrate New Years Eve at nightclubs and restaurants on Friday in Ybor City. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jan. 1, 2021|Updated Jan. 3, 2021

TAMPA— Packed New Year’s Eve celebrations raged across the Tampa Bay area on the same day that Florida broke its coronavirus caseload record with more than 17,000 cases added in one day.

Administrations and agencies on both sides of the bay had encouraged residents to celebrate safely. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor tweeted advice to stay home from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The City of St. Petersburg told residents on Twitter: “Celebrating NYE virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread.”

But crowds gathered in Ybor City, Channelside, St. Petersburg and at other local bars for partying that looked almost pre-coronavirus — with few masks and little social distancing in sight.

Videos posted on social media show DJs playing indoors to large crowds and tables of partiers with few masks to be found.

Crowds danced shoulder to shoulder to pounding music outside the Coyote Ugly Saloon in Tampa. Party-goers poured onto the street as Ybor City clubs closed at 2:30 a.m.

Efforts to reach some of the clubs and bars shown in the photos by phone and social media were unsuccessful on New Year’s Day.

The night’s antics drew critics and gawkers on social media. Some tweeted out photos of the burgeoning crowds, while others wondered what the effect will be on area hospital capacity.

The upward trend of coronavirus cases is likely to continue after the New Year’s holiday when younger people bring the coronavirus back to their multi-generational homes, said Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“If any of these young adults that we’re seeing in these parties are bringing it home to those type of households, that’s where we run the risk of more serious cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths,” Levine said.

Related: So far, few coronavirus vaccines — or answers — for Florida seniors

Levine had hoped that “people would keep their guard up” and stick to small, outdoor gatherings with face masks to celebrate the holiday.

“I’m not terribly surprised because every holiday recently we’ve seen similar types of approaches,” Levine said. “But we’ve not been in this position before, we have a record number of cases. And we’re also trying to mount a vaccine campaign, which could be hampered if our health care system continues to be stressed and potentially overloaded. That could definitely end our ability to vaccinate people.”

In addition, Levine said, a mutated version of the virus, which is more transmissible than the original strain, has already made its way into Florida and could have spread in the packed crowds.

Related: Florida’s first case of U.K. coronavirus variant found, officials say

“I think the next few weeks to months in all likelihood could be, as many have said, some of the darkest days,” Levine said. “We’re already seeing our hospitals stressed. We’ve watched the cases go up. We’ve watched the hospitalizations go up. In all likelihood the deaths will continue to go up, too.”

Crowds of patrons gather on Seventh Avenue. as they celebrate New Year's Eve at nightclubs and restaurants on Friday in Ybor City.
Crowds of patrons gather on Seventh Avenue. as they celebrate New Year's Eve at nightclubs and restaurants on Friday in Ybor City. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Tampa code enforcement officers were not sent out Thursday night, said Ashley Bauman, Castor’s spokeswoman. Instead, Tampa police officers were sent out, she said.

“Code enforcement will be out in force tonight and tomorrow,” Bauman wrote in a text Friday. “We’re encouraged by the majority of our residents complying and know exactly who’s not.”

Related: Tampa Bay leaders to enforce coronavirus restrictions

Tampa police worked with code enforcement before the holiday to educate business owners about the role of face masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19, wrote Vanessa Nettingham, a Tampa Police Department spokeswoman, in an email.

“We are pleased that the majority of our residents and businesses take active roles to help slow the spread of Covid-19,” she wrote. “We are also aware of video, taken as entertainment establishments were beginning to close, that shows individuals in the street not wearing masks as they prepared to head home.”

Elsewhere, the pandemic curbed the traditional Times Square celebration that usually packs a million people in the streets to watch the ball drop. The government in Washington, D.C., banned alcohol sales after 10 p.m. to keep the partying to a minimum. And in Florida, Broward County installed a 1 a.m. curfew to get residents home earlier.

But still, massive parties happened throughout the state. CBS Miami reported that South Beach and Fort Lauderdale Beach were crowded with revelers, although the cities shut down their typical large celebrations.

Social media posts show Miami’s Wynwood Walls & Arts District packed with partiers watching live music and dancing. Hundreds filled the street in South Beach for the holiday—some with masks, many not.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.

VACCINES Q & A: Have coronavirus vaccine questions? We have answers, Florida.

FACE MASKS: Read the latest on guidelines, tips for comfort and long-term wear

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.

THE CORONAVIRUS SCRAPBOOK: We collected your stories, pictures, songs, recipes, journals and more to show what life has been like during the pandemic.

A TRIBUTE TO THE FLORIDIANS TAKEN BY THE CORONAVIRUS: They were parents and retirees, police officer and doctors, imperfect but loved deeply.

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.