In response to public health concerns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic has been postponed until May, organizers announced Thursday.
The 44th edition of the races in Tampa is scheduled to take place May 7-9. It originally had been set for Feb. 19-21
The Gasparilla Distance Classic Association in October announced plans for an in-person event in February with a limited field for each of the four races (15-kilometer, 5K, 8K and half-marathon), along with and a series of precautions and protocols.
But COVID-19 positivity rates have risen dramatically since that time and are projected to increase further in the coming months, prompting the postponement.
“We feel like we made a great decision, and we made it with everyone’s best interests at heart — our runners, our partners, our volunteers,” said executive director Susan Harmeling. “By May, the thought is that the positivity rates are going to begin declining; and also, the COVID-19 vaccines will be out for the general population as the months go by. So we feel like we made the right call.”
Harmeling said that as recently as Nov. 1, the race was still on track for February, with a health plan approved by city leaders and health officials, including infectious disease partners at Tampa General Hospital, a race sponsor. Among the social-distancing measures put in place: only 32 runners would cross the starting line per minute, compared to 1,200 this year.
But the coronavirus spike in Florida and around the nation changed all that — especially since hospital specialists told Harmeling the worst was still to come.
“They have projected that we’re going to see a peak in late January, early February,” she said. “That is right on top of us. So we knew that in spite of the fact that we had a fantastic COVID-19 mitigation plan for the runners, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to offer this event in person. It just couldn’t happen.”
In a statement, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor praised the association’s decision.
“With their 2021 race weekend planning, the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association has worked diligently to protect the health and well-being of Gasparilla’s runners, walkers, and the Tampa Bay community,” Castor said. “Postponing the 2021 events further demonstrates the Association’s commitment to our community.”
After announcing the postponement, Harmeling said one early complaint was that the weather in May would be too hot for such a race. May 7-9 was the earliest date Bayshore Boulevard and other resources were available, due to the postponement of the city’s annual Gasparilla festivals to late April.
“We’ve had very, very warm events before,” Harmeling said. “We always take care of our participants. We’ll take care of them in May.”
All participants who are currently registered for one or more of the 2021 events will be given the option of running in-person in May or, if they choose, converting their registration to run virtually.
For the latest updates and information on the event, visit www.rungasparilla.com.
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