It's the Monday after the Super Bowl, and the Tampa Bay Bucs and their diehard fans are on top of the world right now, but the community is also on the ass end of criticism and jokes about the large swath of folks on streets this weekend opening flaunting COVID-19 mask ordinances that city officials said they were more focused on encouraging than enforcing.
A New York Times headline from today reads “In Tampa, Super Bowl Celebrations Bring Superspreader Concerns,” while adding that video appears to show at least one police officer getting knocked to the ground as a large group of fans shoved each other (the story arrives days after the Tampa police union said the NFL and local host committee was “putting dollars over officer lives and safety”).
Over the weekend, crowds in Ybor City were forced to contend with nearby shootings, and TMZ spent the weekend busting celebrities like Steve Aoki and 50 Cent who partied alongside locals — and local DJs — and more or less continued to rage for maskless crowds.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman offered criticism of 50 Cent’s Feb. 5 party at a private airplane hangar within city limits, saying that the party was not safe or smart and that he was “going to take a very close look at this, and it may end up costing someone a lot more than 50 cent.”
And at an early Monday morning press conference with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and members of the Super Bowl host committee, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said seeing the lack of mask compliance was “a little frustrating because we worked so hard.” However, at a different Monday press conference outside the Tampa Convention Center, Castor said she was overall happy with how everything went. In her eyes, revelers “understood their level of personal responsibility, and they were doing the right thing.”
She added that literally tens of thousands of people came out sharing the excitement of the Super Bowl win, pointing out that her order “was ‘in contrast’ to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s order last year prohibiting cities from fining individuals for ignoring local pandemic restrictions.”
Castor also pulled a page out of the Ron DeSantis playbook by blaming reporters and saying that “the media can always find examples of bad behavior.”
But it wasn’t just the media that saw bad behavior all weekend. Countless photos and videos also showed maskless people crammed together in places like SoHo and Ybor City.
A local medical expert who recently joined Castor at a Super Bowl press conference also confirmed that the media is not gaslighting concerned citizens.
“I saw what you saw,” Dr. Jay Wolfson, senior associate dean of the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, wrote in an email to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay on Monday afternoon.
Wolfson said the scenes were to be expected and that “not much more could have been done to reduce the “fraternity party” behavior before, during and after the game.” He added that kind of behavior may also be the case for the Super Bowl championship parade, which Castor said will definitely happen.
“We definitely have to celebrate this momentous occasion,” she said at her second press conference, before citing the Tampa Riverwalk boat parade in celebration of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “We didn’t see a spike ... after we won the Stanley Cup.”
Wolfson told CL that everyone partying in the wake of the Bucs’ historic win knew the rules, but that human behavior took over. “For most, it will not be consequential,” he said, before warning of the super-spreader potential of Super Bowl weekend’s events.
“We had tens of thousands of out of state visitors, bringing with them whatever they may have acquired — and they will be taking whatever they might pick up here back to Kansas City and elsewhere in the U.S. And everybody participated in the joyous celebrations — many in large groups, in close quarters (even outdoors) cheering, yelling, singing — without masks and no social distancing,” Wolfson wrote.
The medical community, he said, will continue to watch, monitor, conduct surveillance, test and seek to manage public health resources going forward in preparation for a post Super Bowl coronavirus surge, which he said would not happen right away.
Since nearly 60 percent of cases are asymptomatic, and there is an increasing likelihood that at least one of the new strains may have sneaked into the gatherings, Wolfson said aggressive public health precautions are very much needed to combat the risk of community spread.
“It does not happen right away — it takes a few weeks to observe the effects, both here and in the places to which people participating in the unmasked, undistanced events return,” Wolfson said.
Still, Wolfson commended the NFL for protecting players and team staff throughout the season that led to the historic victory. He said many venue owners really did their best to control behaviors, before reiterating past comments to CL by adding that “we simply do not have the resources nor the cultural dynamics to expect to be able to control behaviors at a time and place like this.”
He said that as many new cases arise, we all still have to do our part to protect the community.
“Wear the damn mask, socially distance and use common sense,” he said. “Let’s be proud of what our community and our team has accomplished. And let's honor the Bucs and Tampa Bay by keeping our families and community safe in the weeks ahead.”This story first appeared in our sister newspaper Creative Loafing Tampa.