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How is Tampa Bay handling Super Bowl and coronavirus?

The virus is still spreading around Florida and the region. Here’s what we know about precautions, risks and effects during game festivities.
Thousands of fans attend the festivities along the Tampa Riverwalk during the NFL's Super Bowl 55 Experience on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa.
Thousands of fans attend the festivities along the Tampa Riverwalk during the NFL's Super Bowl 55 Experience on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 3
Updated Feb. 5

Super Bowl 55 has come to Tampa. And adding to the excitement, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made history by being the first NFL team to play the big game in their home stadium.

But there’s still a pandemic. Florida has reported more than 1.7 million coronavirus cases and more than 27,000 deaths since March. Public health experts have repeated warnings about gathering for events and local officials have made adjustments for the game.

Here’s what you need to know.

Will the Super Bowl be a super spreader event?

The NFL has taken a lot of steps to limit viral transmission.

Fans will receive a KN95 mask, hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and a COVID-19 safety card, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told PolitiFact. Anyone at the game will also be required to wear face coverings, stay in their assigned seats and keep 6 feet distance from others.

But public health experts are concerned about what the NFL can’t control – crowds in bars, restaurants and house parties. PolitiFact explains.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warns about Super Bowl parties

The White House infectious disease expert said now’s not the time to invite people over to watch the game. “You just don’t know if they’re infected,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show. “So, as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”

It is possible to have a safe watch party?

You can still celebrate and watch, though it might be different from years before.

The game is considered the biggest at-home party event of the year, according to research by Hallmark Cards and Evite. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consistently warn against gathering with people from outside your household. Minimize spread by taking advantage of the region’s outdoor weather, wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding food that require a shared serving spoon.

The state of the pandemic in Florida

After a holiday bump, cases and hospitalizations are falling in Florida following a national trend, data editor Langston Taylor reports. While that’s promising news, numbers are still high and experts warn of the more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K., after several cases have been found in Tampa Bay and Florida.

Coronavirus in Cigar City vs. the City of Fountains

The two metropolitan cities have both dealt with the pandemic in different ways. In Kansas City, which implemented extensive social distancing protocols, has a reported amount of about 1 in 14 residents to be infected as of Wednesday since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Tampa has seen at least roughly 1 in 7 residents who have contracted the virus.

Expect a spike but not for long

A few weeks after the Super Bowl, public health experts expect the region to see a rise in new cases. University of South Florida models forecast it will be a smaller and shorter surge than before. See the five things you need to know about protecting yourself from the coronavirus during the Super Bowl here.

What a major sporting event is like in the COVID-19 era

Eliminated or reimagined fan events. Limited attendance. Virtual additions. Tampa Bay Times reporters have attended five U.S. championship events during the pandemic. They offer an insight to how the Super Bowl will look like.

Halftime show magic ... from a distance

The weekend’s biggest performance will feature the Weeknd.

The huge production usually requires hundreds of people to put together the stage and effects and then deconstruct it less than 15 minutes later with the no damages done to the field. So how will it be done safely? All crew will be tested before the Super Bowl and are required to wear masks.

But still expect an elaborate show; the Weeknd said he used $7 million of his own money to make sure the performance was as he envisioned it.

Masks are required outdoors in parts of Tampa

Mayor Jane Castor issued an executive order making face coverings required outside in popular Super Bowl event areas such as downtown, the Riverwalk, Armature Works, Ybor City, SoHO bar district, Channel District and neighborhoods around Raymond James Stadium.

Mayor Jane Castor's outdoor mask order for parts of Tampa is in effect until Feb. 13, 2021.
Mayor Jane Castor's outdoor mask order for parts of Tampa is in effect until Feb. 13, 2021. [ Courtesy of the City of Tampa ]

Enforcing pandemic guidelines

Hillsborough County law enforcement and code enforcement teams are partnering to ensure people are wearing face masks at at all times. They’ll patrol businesses, like restaurants and bars.

Those refusing to comply will get a warning before being cited with a civil infraction. Penalties start at $150, and after multiple violations, it rises up to $450 for each infraction. See a full breakdown of pandemic and Super Bowl rules.

What social media had to say about avoiding a super-spreader

When the Tampa Bay Times asked people “What can be done to help prevent Super Bowl 55 from becoming a coronavirus super spreader event for the Tampa Bay region?”, answers flooded in within minutes.

Some suggested good-old fashioned social distancing measures, inflatable bubbles or banning Kansas City Chiefs fans. Well, there might have been another reason for the last one.

Tampa Bay tourism shifts in messaging toward safety

Officials wanted to use the Super Bowl to tell the nation about how much the region has changed since the last time Tampa hosted the game. But now there’s another message they’re trying to spread. “Come here, have a good time, be responsible,” said Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.

Visiting for the game? Trying to avoid indoor crowds? See the best local attractions with open space here.

Local economy misses out on big boost

Super Bowl 55 was supposed to bring a boom of activity to the Tampa Bay area. But because of the pandemic, businesses had to adjust their plans for fewer parties, events and fans.

Adding to uncertainty, the Bucs won the NFC Championship to clinch a spot playing in the Super Bowl. While it’ll likely spur some last-minute business on the local level, it also means another team’s fans won’t be coming down to the region to spend money.

Hotels, already suffering from lower occupancy rates, were longing for a Super Bowl boost. Though many Bucs fans are likely not going to book a room, hoteliers see hope in the attention the game will bring to the region coinciding with the timing of a COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

What happens if the Bucs win?

After the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, Tampa fans gathered on Riverwalk and not everyone wore masks or socially distanced. A video showed people drinking out of the Stanley Cup. Though Castor said planning for a Super Bowl victory celebration hasn’t begun and she doesn’t want to jinx anything, she also said the city has learned a lot from the hockey champion’s boat parade.

Information from Caitlin Johnston, Dennis Joyce, Natalie Weber, Anastasia Dawson, Langston Taylor, C.T. Bowen, Tracey McManus, Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Jay Cridlin, Sara DiNatale, Charlie Frago, Matt Baker, Marc Topkin, Megan Reeves, PolitiFact and Associated Press was included in this report.

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Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage

TIMELINE: How the Bucs and Tampa converged for Super Bowl 55

FANS IN TAMPA: A first look inside the Super Bowl Experience in Tampa

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