Tampa’s River O’ Green and St. Patrick’s Day parade postponed

Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group declared a local state of emergency at a meeting Thursday.
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister listen to presentations during the county's emergency policy group meeting Thursday.
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister listen to presentations during the county's emergency policy group meeting Thursday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published March 12, 2020|Updated March 12, 2020

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TAMPA — The Hillsborough River won’t run green this weekend, and no revelers will line the streets for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, but for now, WrestleMania is still a go.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group voted unanimously Thursday to impose a local state of emergency for seven days to coordinate an effective response to coronavirus.

In a week, if necessary, they’ll reconvene to decide the fate of the international wrestling extravaganza slated for April 5.

“We’ve still got a little time,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, a member of the group, which also meets to develop emergency responses to hurricanes.

But Tampa’s mayor said River O’ Green, the annual festival started by her predecessor Bob Buckhorn, won’t happen this weekend. Instead, that event and the St. Patrick’s Day parade will be postponed, possibly until June.

“That’s something that’s very, very important to our community. We have so many events for all of our citizens that our families get to enjoy. And so, clearly, the decision was not made without a great deal of thought,” she told reporters after the meeting at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

“But, clearly, bringing people together is the least responsible thing we can do at this point,” she said.

Earlier, policy group members, which included Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, County Commissioners Sandra Murman, Les Miller and Kimberly Overman and Sheriff Chad Chronister, decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward WrestleMania.

Since the local emergency order only lasts for seven days, they can reconvene and reconsider the international wrestling event next week, said Miller, who chaired the meeting.

Hillsborough state health official Douglas Holt told the group during their discussion that Gov. Ron DeSantis had just announced his suggestion that all mass events be canceled while the coronavirus remains a public health threat.

“That’s not an order, but a suggestion,” Holt said.

In other developments, the group responded to Murman’s request that testing for the virus be centralized by unanimously authorizing Merrill to be given the power to set up a testing protocol for the county. That will help clarify and focus efforts, Holt said.

Current protocols, in which people who think they might have the virus were advised to seek out their primary care doctor, weren’t a good fit for the county, Murman said. Many people don’t have a primary care physician, she said.

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“That’s why emergency rooms are so full,” she said. “It will help us give a sense of security that we have a firm process in place."

After the meeting Castor said she was concerned about the impact on local tourism, noting that cancellation of big events hurts the pocketbooks of vendors and small businesses.

“This is an issue that I’m going to have to consider down the line,” she said. “Those are real paychecks for our citizens."

Both Castor and Merrill said that they hoped for state and federal aid to deal with the economic and public health costs. They expect to get reimbursed much like local governments would after a hurricane.

Later Thursday, Tampa City Council chairman Luis Viera, over the objections of some petitioners, persuaded his colleagues to postpone public hearings at tonight’s 6 p.m. meeting until April 23 because of coronavirus risk. He said he would like to proceed with future meetings on a “week by week basis.”

The meeting adjourned a few minutes later.

The 4-2 vote had council members Bill Carlson and John Dingfelder voting no.

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