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Super Bowl revelers without masks crowd Tampa streets despite coronavirus

Ybor City has drawn crowds during the pandemic, but Super Bowl eve trumped them all. And it wasn’t just Ybor.
Published Feb. 7
Updated Feb. 8

TAMPA — Dr. Anthony Fauci advises people to lay low for the Super Bowl, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say your risk of spreading coronavius increases with the number of people you encounter, and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has ordered people to wear masks in popular outdoor areas through next week.

But judging by photos and videos from the scene, these exhortations fell on largely deaf ears the night before the Super Bowl along historic Seventh Avenue in Ybor City.

Thousands of people gathered along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on the eve of Super Bowl 55 today.
Thousands of people gathered along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on the eve of Super Bowl 55 today. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Seventh Avenue has continued to draw crowds since the outbreak of the pandemic nearly a year ago, reaching a crescendo on New Year’s Eve. But Super Bowl eve trumped that, said Tampa Bay Times photographer Luis Santana, who has photographed many of the crowds.

Santana estimated that tens of thousands of people crowded the streets of Ybor City after midnight, early Sunday morning.

His images show an ebb and flow of the crowd, with traffic able to negotiate the street at some points but at others, people shoulder to shoulder with little separation in the middle of the street.

Some people waiting to enter clubs wore masks as thousands gathered along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on the eve of Super Bowl 55 today.
Some people waiting to enter clubs wore masks as thousands gathered along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on the eve of Super Bowl 55 today. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

The same was true at other areas targeted in Castor’s outdoor mask order, including — in addition to Ybor City— the SoHo entertainment district and the Tampa Riverwalk, judging from images posted by news organizations and on social media.

Related: Bucs fans celebrate Super Bowl win outside Raymond James and across Tampa

In announcing the order, Castor said authorities might issue fines of up to $450 for repeat offenders. Police chief Brian Dugan said he didn’t want his officers to become “mask police, adding, “We’re hoping people will just kind of work with us when it comes to the mask compliance.”

The police worked the streets of Ybor City through the night and into the morning Sunday, on foot and on horseback. It was not immediately clear whether any citations were issued.

Asked Sunday for a comment on the crowds, Castor’s office referred the Tampa Bay Times to the Police Department. The department had no immediate comment.

In a statement Saturday, the department expressed disappointment at crowded scenes from inside local clubs on Friday.

“The city spent the better part of a year educating residents on precautions due to the pandemic and have recently put a mask order in place for both the entertainment and event zones to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors to our great city. When the governor lifted the capacity restrictions and opened bars, we turned to the tight-knit hospitality community to reopen safe and sound but there’s a level of personal responsibility that must be followed or risk getting shut down.”

At a news conference Sunday, Castor said it was difficult to anticipate how many people would come to Tampa for the Super Bowl but credited great weather, in part, for the turnout — at a time when other parts of the nation are seeing snowstorms.

When asked how she wanted people in the city to act if the Bucs win the Super Bowl, Castor said, “Well, we’ve done so well in putting on a safe Super Bowl, when we do win tonight, I just want to keep safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Celebrate, but do it safely. Simply wear a mask.”

Much of the local enforcement effort has been aimed at bars and restaurants, officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have said, to remind them of their responsibilities. Among the images Santana captured were people without masks crowing balconies overlooking Seventh Street.

Seventh Avenue seemed to match the scenario spelled out as “Highest risk” on the scale of risk at the CDC website: “Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.”

This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.

The police presence was clear as thousands of people gathered along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on the eve of Super Bowl 55 today.
The police presence was clear as thousands of people gathered along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on the eve of Super Bowl 55 today. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

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Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage

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TUNE IN EARLY: If you want to see Super Bowl 55’s hero, watch the pregame ceremony

SUPER BOWL IN A PANDEMIC: How Tampa Bay is handling Super Bowl and coronavirus

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