When Super Bowl revelers file into WTR at Tampa’s Godfrey Hotel this weekend for poolside parties featuring Diplo, Steve Aoki and 50 Cent, they’ll have to wear masks.
They’ll enter through a device that uses artificial intelligence to scan for common coronavirus symptoms; if one pops up, they’ll be ushered aside for a rapid antigen test. They’ll have to stay socially distanced and seated, even inside the party’s $50,000 luxury cabanas. And on the way out the door, they’ll be offered a take-home COVID-19 test kit.
“Even though it’s outdoors, it’s still a big, big venue, and there’ll be people, so we want to take every precaution,” said Gino LoPinto, operating partner of E11even nightclub in Miami, which is partnering with Barstool Sports to host the parties. “It’s definitely more proactive, just from a safety standpoint.”
LoPinto is prepared for Tampa code enforcement officials to come and inspect safety protocols. But he doesn’t know if they will.
“I know there’s been tickets written,” he said. “I would have to assume, without really knowing, that people are going to try to do the right thing here.”
As Super Bowl weekend hits Tampa, it’s still a big question as to how local officials will enforce mask mandates and other guidelines — not just at the game and official NFL events, but at private parties and gatherings. Many leaders say they’re relying on fans to follow widely accepted safety practices, and are unlikely to write many citations — but they still could if need be.
Before the game, it’s worth asking one last time: Is Tampa really ready for this? How are officials planning to keep not just out-of-towners safe, but Buccaneers fans who might feel emboldened to hit the town in the event of a hometown victory?
Here are some answers.
What are the mask and safety mandates around Tampa Bay right now, anyway?
In Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, the rules are pretty similar. People are supposed to wear masks inside of businesses, with a few exceptions, like if a person has a medical condition that prevents mask use. The cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa have similar guidance.
The Pinellas rule allows people to not wear masks in some places if they are distanced and there are 10 or fewer guests inside. Hillsborough requires mask usage whenever people are not six feet apart inside a shop. Pasco broadly requires people to wear masks when not social distancing inside businesses.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor recently extended an order to several of the most popular areas for partying in her city, mandating that people don masks outside the Riverwalk, Ybor City, the Channel District, SoHo, Armature Works and select neighborhoods near Raymond James Stadium.
Restaurants are supposed to keep people at least six feet apart inside in Pinellas. There are not set capacity limits. Guests can drop their face coverings to eat and drink, or in some cases if they’re outside in Hillsborough. Bars are supposed to only serve alcohol to customers who are sitting down. People are not supposed to congregate standing — so even if the Bucs score, try to stay seated and keep high fives to a minimum.
What happens if I don’t comply?
If you’re cited as an individual in Tampa, you could be fined no more than $500, according to the city order. Maybe.
Castor has said code enforcement officers may fine scofflaws who don’t listen as an extreme fallback. The city code for such a violation spells out penalties of $150, then $300 and $450 for repeat offenses. But it’s unclear how that would work under an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis that blocks local officials from collecting fines on individuals who flaunt pandemic requirements.
Pinellas specifically references the governor’s order in explaining how authorities cannot penalize individual people but may still go after businesses. Restaurant and bar owners could face fines if they pack buildings without sufficient distancing or mask use. Those are $100 for the first violation, $250 for the second and $500 thereafter. St. Petersburg has the same penalties.
Hillsborough County’s order allows for a $150 fine. Pasco County calls for up to $250.
Who’s enforcing all this?
Authorities around Tampa are leaning on code enforcement officials to keep people at bars and restaurants in line. County and city staffers will visit businesses Sunday, both inside the city and out. Hillsborough officials said they will “remind businesses of their responsibilities” in unincorporated areas.
Across the bay, Pinellas deputies already conduct spot checks, according to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, visiting about 250 places each week. He said they find rule-breaking in about 6 to 7 percent of businesses they visit, and they have nothing different planned for the Super Bowl.
“We’ve had pretty good compliance in the bars and restaurants,” Gualtieri said.
Spokesmen for St. Petersburg and Clearwater say the cities plan to conduct spot checks in bars and restaurants as normal, with no additional enforcement activities planned for the Super Bowl.
Pasco’s order asks business owners and restaurant managers to kick out people who do not follow the rules. County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine said code enforcement staffers have “inspected thousands of businesses” through the pandemic and respond to complaints.
Will they really be enforcing it?
To a degree. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has encouraged “personal responsibility” when it comes to mask-wearing; while Police Chief Brian Dugan has said that writing citations will be a “last resort,” adding, “We’re hoping people will just kind of work with us when it comes to the mask compliance.”
Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies will “continue to encourage and educate our community members on the importance of taking the necessary steps to stay healthy,” said spokeswoman Natalia Verdina.
Pinellas deputies focus on education and have not recently issued fines, according to Gualtieri. “I haven’t received any complaints in a while,” he said.
Officers in St. Petersburg will patrol as usual Sunday and respond to calls about any bars or restaurants flouting requirements, said Chief Tony Holloway.
“We’ll evaluate what’s going on there and we’ll educate the public and the business owner,” he said. They hope to avoid levying fines. “A lot of businesses have been compliant, we just hope they don’t change on Super Bowl Sunday.”
Pasco’s order also refers to fines as a “last resort.”
What’s happening at bars, clubs and parties?
While Tampa’s Super Bowl party scene is pretty subdued compared to years past, a handful of clubs have started promoting concerts and appearances by celebrities and rappers like Migos, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and Kodak Black.
Some parties, but not all, have outlined safety protocols on their event and ticket pages. Some are more closed-off than usual, with few red carpets and capacity capped at around 50 percent.
Kelly Springer, a publicist for a party with Funkmaster Flex at the Ritz Ybor, said her team will adhere to local safety and capacity codes, and is prepared for spot inspections.
“I expect that, especially in a scenario like this,” she said. “We all want to have a good time. Everybody wants to make their splash. But at the same time, the capacity’s the capacity. So we have to hold true to that.”
Will the cops come if I host a house party?
Not for any pandemic-related reason. Mask and distancing rules from local governments apply to businesses and some other public spaces.
“We’re not going to be knocking on people’s doors and asking how many people are in your home,” said Holloway, the St. Petersburg chief, who plans to watch the game at home with his wife.
Should I have a big house party?
Not inside. Take it from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, who advised: “Just lay low and cool it.”
Doctors have long said people should avoid close gatherings indoors with people from outside their households. The same guidance applies now. Pinellas, on its coronavirus website, suggests:
“Gathering virtually or with the people you live with is the safest way to celebrate the Super Bowl this year. If you do have a small gathering with people who don’t live with you, outdoors is safer than indoors.”
Personal responsibility is important, disease experts say. Marissa Levine, a public health professor at the University of South Florida, told Politifact she was not so worried about the stadium itself becoming a superspreading launch pad. “I’m much more concerned, actually, about what happens outside the stadium and across the nation in people’s homes and at gatherings for the Super Bowl.”
What are the policies at the game itself?
The league will provide free KN95 masks to everyone in the stands, and require six feet of distance between pods of fans. Ticket scans are touchless and purchases will be cashless.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said league staff and security will warn noncompliant fans of the rules, then toss them out if those warnings are ignored. That policy, he said, will be enforced throughout the facility, including in suites and among the 7,500 vaccinated health care workers attending as guests of the league.
Are things different in Kansas City?
Quite a bit, actually. Kansas City’s COVID-19 safety protocols will remain in place during Sunday’s game, including 50 percent capacity in bars and restaurants, which must close at midnight. Patrons must be seated at all times and masked whenever they’re not eating or drinking.
The Chiefs and Mayor Quinton Lucas have already announced the city won’t host a victory parade should the Chiefs win. Tampa hasn’t pledged the same — and of course the city has already hosted one major victory parade during the pandemic, for the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in September.
Don’t count on Tampa passing up the opportunity. Chief Dugan, when asked about the city’s police planning, said: “Hopefully a day or two after the game, we’re having a victory parade, whether it be a boat parade or something, so we’ll have to deal with that, too.”
Times staff writers Anastasia Dawson, Tony Marrero, Charlie Frago, Barbara Behrendt, C.T. Bowen and Tracey McManus contributed to this report.
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