Last week, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas gathered to discuss coronavirus safety in their two cities ahead of Super Bowl 55.
“You’ve got to bring sunscreen, that’s a guarantee,” Castor addressed Kansas City fans during the livestream. “You can bring shorts, T-shirts, some flip-flops and your sunglasses. But most importantly, you’ve got to bring your Kansas City mask.”
Coronavirus cases in both cities have been on the decline after a post-holiday spike, a common trend across the country. Coronavirus-related deaths, remain high across both metropolitan regions, as in many parts of the United States. However, despite a smaller population and similar social distancing protocols, the Tampa Bay area has seen higher caseloads and death counts than its Super Bowl rival.
With the big game Sunday, could that gap widen? Epidemiologists caution about gatherings outside the stadium, such as private parties, which have been linked to coronavirus surges and could set the two cities back in the gains they’ve made.
Here’s a look at the two regions’ coronavirus policies and caseloads ahead of the game, as well as ways to stop the spread and celebrate safely — whether you’re cheering on the Buccaneers or Chiefs.
Policies: Kansas City has implemented extensive social distancing protocols. Dine-in restaurants and bars must close from midnight to 4 a.m. and patrons must be masked unless eating or drinking. No more than 10 people may be seated at a given table, and groups should be spaced 6 feet apart. Restaurants are also encouraged to keep a list of patrons who spend more than 10 minutes in the establishment to help with contact tracing.
Indoor gatherings of more than 10 people must receive approval from the Kansas City Health Department and masks are required in indoor spaces with more than one person in the room. Masks are also required in outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible. Fitness centers may operate at no more than 50 percent capacity.
Tampa has implemented a mask order through Feb. 13, requiring masks in several popular city destinations, including Ybor City, downtown, the Riverwalk, Armature Works, Channel District, the SoHo bar district and areas neighboring Raymond James Stadium. Hillsborough County also requires masks in businesses open to the public where social distancing is not possible. Pinellas County requires masks in most public indoor spaces, though government entities are exempt, and they are not required at gyms if social distancing is maintained.
Bars, restaurants and nightclubs are open for seated service only in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. All establishments must prevent congregating in common areas.
Cases: As of Wednesday, Kansas City reported 35,913 coronavirus cases throughout the course of the pandemic. With a population of 495,278, that means roughly 1 in 14 residents have been infected. Meanwhile, Tampa has seen 59,310 cases, with roughly 1 in 7 of its 399,700 residents having contracted the virus.
According to Wednesday’s data, Kansas City added 690 cases last week. From Feb. 24 to Feb. 30, Tampa added 1,936 cases.
Over the past seven days, the Kansas City metropolitan area has added about 125 coronavirus cases per day, or about 25 cases per 100,000 people, according to local and state databases. Hillsborough County has added roughly 535 cases per day, or 36 cases per 100,000 people. Nearby Pinellas County has added an average of 377 cases per day or 39 cases per 100,000 people, according to local data.
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As of Wednesday, Kansas City’s two-week positivity rate was 10 percent, while Hillsborough’s positivity rate was 11 percent and Pinellas’ was 8 percent.
Still, cases are declining across these regions and their respective states. According to the New York Times, the average for daily cases added in Missouri has decreased by 26 percent over the past two weeks. Florida has seen an 18 percent decrease in average daily cases over the same time period.
In Kansas City, cases are the lowest they’ve been since October, said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, an infectious disease expert and dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.
“Things are trending in the right direction right now,” she said.
Average daily cases have also generally been on the decline in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
“You’re seeing the same pattern,” said University of South Florida epidemiologist Edwin Michael, noting that the same decrease was happening across the United States.
Kansas City has no known reports of COVID-19 variant strains at this time. Florida, meanwhile, has reported 22 cases of the contagious U.K. variant.
Deaths: Kansas City has seen about 92 deaths per 100,000 people over the course of the pandemic, heath data shows. Hillsborough County has seen 89 deaths per 100,000 people and Pinellas County has seen 134 deaths per 100,000 people.
Over the past two weeks, Kansas City has seen 72 deaths, while Hillsborough County has seen 115 deaths and Pinellas County has seen 121 deaths. The New York Times reports that deaths have risen in Kansas City, while they have remained around the same level in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Hospitalizations: Kansas City has seen a 27 percent decline in hospitalizations over the past two weeks. Hillsborough County has seen a 14 percent decline and Pinellas has seen a 10 percent decline.
An average of 86 percent of intensive care unit beds were filled in Kansas City as of Jan. 28, according to data sourced from the COVID Tracking Project. An average of 82 percent of Hillsborough ICU beds and 83 percent of Pinellas ICU beds were full, as of Jan. 28.
Impact of the Super Bowl on cases: Michael, the USF epidemiologist, predicted a 25 percent drop in social distancing in the Tampa Bay area tied to the Super Bowl. Without this decrease, the pandemic would be over by the end of June, his model predicted. But with many people letting down their guard around the big game, the end of the pandemic could be delayed by another two months, he said.
“Let’s not disrupt all the gains that have been made recently,” Michael said.
What’s happening outside of the stadium will likely have the greatest impact on cases, said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
In order to prevent coronavirus spread around the game, “the principles don’t change,” Sell said. That means tried and true measures like social distancing and mask-wearing are the best ways to stay safe.
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Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage
ATTENTION SUPER BOWL VISITORS: Here’s our guide to Tampa Bay’s socially distanced attractions
PARTY PLANNING IN A PANDEMIC: How to host a safe Super Bowl party
FANS IN TAMPA: A first look inside the Super Bowl Experience in Tampa
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