TAMPA — For weeks, Tampa officials have been focused on pulling off the difficult task of hosting the Super Bowl during a pandemic.
But if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win the big game, how will the city celebrate?
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she doesn’t want to jinx anything.
“I am not superstitious, but we don’t want to take any chances. We aren’t planning anything yet,” Castor said Wednesday during a Facebook Live appearance.
The city learned a lot from its Sept. 30 boat parade and Raymond James Stadium celebration of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup victory, Castor said.
Crowds gathered along the city’s Riverwalk to watch Castor and Lightning players motor by in boats on the Hillsborough River. Not everyone socially distanced or wore masks.
When players got off the boats at Rick’s on the River, video showed fans drinking out of the Stanley Cup.
“That was an exciting event for our community, but we did learn a lot about spreading out of the fans. We didn’t know as much about the outdoor rates of contagion as we do now. So we certainly will plan celebrations that are very, very safe,” Castor said.
The mayor joked that another boat parade wouldn’t be held until the Lightning won another Stanley Cup, but did hint that outdoor celebrations on the water are an edge that Tampa has over other cities, especially during a pandemic.
“I don’t think they can have NFL boat parades in some of the other NFL cities,” she said.
One difference between the Lightning celebration and whatever might happen if the Bucs win is an outdoor mask mandate along the Riverwalk and any other likely parade spots throughout the city. Castor’s executive order lasts through Feb. 13 and would be in effect during any celebration, Castor spokeswoman Ashley Bauman confirmed Thursday.
The Buccaneers would be involved in any celebration planning, she said.
“The Lightning Boat Parade was uniquely Tampa and simply the first time that had ever been done and we learned a lot from it. We’re lucky we have the ability to create those fun safe environments on the water,” Bauman wrote in an email.
Dr. Jay Wolfson, a University of South Florida public health professor, said Castor’s mask order is likely to help, but any large gathering is a risk, especially large, excited crowds. And, he said, it’s not just an organized celebration that poses dangers, but the spontaneous celebrations that would undoubtedly erupt if the home team wins.
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That’s what happened in the wake of the Lightning win, he said.
“The street turned into a fraternity party. That’s what we have to avoid, but I don’t know that we can,” Wolfson said. “It’s hard to control large groups of excited, celebratory fans who naturally want to come together to celebrate.”
The best way to keep things safe are well known: social distancing, mask-wearing and avoiding large crowds, he said.
But that’s easier said than done after a year of a pandemic that has erased celebrations of all kinds.
“People see this as a one-time, just for now, we’ve earned it, type of thing,” Wolfson said, noting that a spike in infections occurred locally after the Lightning celebrations. “But it creates a petri dish for community spread.”
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