TAMPA — Authorities didn’t want to be the “mask police,” and they weren’t, judging from records of enforcement efforts during the Super Bowl weekend in Tampa.
As national media and even the White House expressed dismay at images of maskless crowds across Tampa, authorities refrained from issuing any individuals a citation — even after instituting a temporary outdoor mask requirement to limit the spread of coronavirus and warning about fines of up to $450.
Thirteen businesses did get cited by city-county code enforcement “strike squads” for failing to enforce mask requirements, some of them again and again, during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. They include clubs and restaurants in the entertainment districts of Ybor City and South Howard Avenue.
Three other businesses were cited for violating the county’s human trafficking ordinance by failing to post signs in a number of languages telling victims how to get help.
Any business given two or more citations from code enforcement officials around Super Bowl time must appear before the Tampa City Council and risk seeing their liquor zoning designation suspended for up to 30 days, said Keith O’Connor, who oversees city code enforcement.
But the exact time window for the offenses was unclear Tuesday. Ybor City night clubs Prana and The Ritz have been issued six citations each since Dec. 17, when the city’s initial mask ordinance went into effect.
Those ticketed for violating the mask ordinance in the week leading up to the big game are:
The Ritz, 1503 Seventh Ave., on Jan. 29, Jan. 30 and Saturday; the Tap House, 1600 Seventh Ave., on Thursday and on game day Sunday; Soho Saloon, 410 Howard Ave., on Jan. 30; Catrina’s Tacos, 1611 Howard Ave., on Thursday; Qvesoir, 1920 Seventh Ave., on Friday; Penthouse, 1801 Westshore Boulevard, on Friday; Limelight, 5305 Armenia Ave., on Saturday; Habibi Hookah Lounge, 1632 Seventh Ave., on Saturday; Carmines, 1816 Seventh Ave., on Saturday; Purple Heart Lounge, 1811 15th St., on Sunday; Prana, 1619 Seventh Ave., on Sunday; and Club Skye, 1509 8th Ave., on Sunday.
Strip clubs, adult bookstores and theaters, and other sexually oriented businesses were required to post the signs warning about human trafficking. Those cited for violations are Yokohama Spa on North Dale Mabry Highway, and Teasers and the Pink Pussycat, both on North Nebraska Avenue. The citations carry fines of up to $265.
Hillsborough County Code Enforcement also issued a citation to Chuck’s Natural Fields Market in Brandon on Friday for disregarding countywide mask ordinances.
No one responded Tuesday when the Tampa Bay Times placed phone calls and sent emails to some of the businesses, including Prana, The Ritz and Chuck’s market.
Police also made five arrests among the crowds before, during and after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ win on Sunday over the Kansas City Chiefs, according to figures released Monday for Jan. 28 through game day by the Tampa Bay Police Department.
All were misdemeanor charges, including one arrest for boating under the influence, one for fraud, one traffic violation and two for trespassing. In addition, police responded to more than 100 drone reports and seized three of the aircraft. Federal authorities declared Super Bowl festivity venues temporarily off-limits to drones.
But rowdy behavior drew little attention across a nation accustomed to over-the-top Super Bowl victory celebrations. What did raise eyebrows were the images of thousands of people jammed together without masks across Ybor City, SoHo, downtown Tampa and the Raymond James Stadium area.
Asked about the reaction from President Joe Biden, who has preached the need to wear masks and social distance, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, “He is, of course, concerned when there are pictures and photos — we all are — that show many, many people without masks in close distance with one another at the height of a pandemic.”
Renowned sports journalist Peter King marveled on social media at what he saw during a visit to Sparkman Wharf on Saturday afternoon: “Masked: 157. Unmasked: 115. Total: 57.7 percentage masked.”
King also pointed out a t-shirt he saw on a “thirty-ish man walking a dog: ‘SOCIALism DISTANCING.’ Man. What has happened to us?”
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said before Super Bowl week that his officers, who got Super Bowl assistance from some 70 law enforcement agencies, would focus on education when it came to mask-wearing rather than being “the mask police.” Authorities gave out some 200,000 masks during the weekend.
Mayor Jane Castor estimated at a news conference Monday that 80 officers were working in Ybor City on game night and another 80 in SoHo. She focused in her comments on the low level of rowdiness rather than the maskless crowds.
“We had tens of thousands of people all over this city and very, very few incidents, so I’m proud of our community,” she said.
As far as the outdoor mask requirement she had issued Jan. 28, Castor said, “I think overall I’m happy with the compliance. ... Most of the citizens I saw were complying.”
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