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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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