Superspreader Super Bowl: Maskless crowds, dance parties and bumping clubs in Florida shock health officials

Local police and leading epidemiologists say 'incredibly disappointing' scenes of large gatherings in Tampa may lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases

Chris Riotta
New York
Sunday 07 February 2021 22:57
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Fans arrive in Tampa for Super Bowl 2021

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Health and law enforcement officials in Tampa, Florida have expressed shock and disappointment after thousands of Americans gathered in clubs and bars, many declining to wear face masks, amid the host city’s Super Bowl celebrations during the weekend. 

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepared to face off with the Kansas City Chiefs, scores of partygoers were seen in videos posted to social media congregating in large gatherings throughout the city. 

Rappers and stars like DJ Aioki and Kodak Black performed at major events in waterfront hotels and clubs, forcing the local police department to respond to reports of the maskless crowds, which they said endanger local residents. 

In a statement released on Saturday, the Tampa Police Department described the scenes as “incredibly disappointing,” adding: “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.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor implemented a temporary ordinance ahead of the Super Bowl weekend mandating face masks indoors when social distancing is not possible and at several outdoor venues. Those in violation of the order can face a possible fine of $500. 

The city also organised a campaign around mask wearing and a distribution plan ahead of the events, with a slogan titled “need a mask, just ask.” Some reports indicated city officials were handing out face masks on the streets during the celebrations, though there was little to no enforcement of the guidelines. 

Police began shutting down certain venues on Friday and Saturday night after local business owners warned of massive parties and crowds ignoring social distancing guidelines, and health officials said the weekend may turn into a superspreader event without action. 

Tom DeGeorge, owner of The Crowbar, told ABC Action News: “You’ve got venues that are operating at 100% capacity, stuffing their places. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see a line that’s two blocks long and know there’s going to a dance floor inside. Shut them down.”

Leading infectious disease experts had previously warned against gathering in crowds for the Super Bowl, including Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told the Associated Press before the Big Game: “I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly. People gather, they watch games together. We’ve seen outbreaks already from football parties.”

The death toll in the United States surpassed 450,000 last week, with more than 3,000 people dying on average every day as a result of the novel virus. Tampa invited nearly 20,000 health care workers, many of whom were reportedly vaccinated, to attend the Super Bowl game at Raymond James Stadium. 

Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Super Bowl parties could turn into “mini superspreader events” in an interview on MSNBC ahead of the game. 

“Enjoy the Super Bowl, but don't do it with a large crowd of people in your house in a place when it's cold and you don't have good ventilation,” he said, “It's a perfect setup to have a mini super spreader event in your own house. Don't do that for now. There will be other Super Bowls.”

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