Tampa mayor frustrated by maskless partiers

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor expressed frustration Monday over individuals not following her executive order for masks to be worn in certain outdoor areas of the city. The city handed out over 200,000 masks, and still places like Ybor City were packed with maskless crowds of partiers and concert-goers during weekend Super Bowl festivities.

“It is a little frustrating because we have worked so hard in cooperation with the NFL and the county and just a number of different entities, putting the executive order in place that masks had to be worn in specific areas that we knew groups would be congregating,” said Castor, Tampa’s former chief of police.

Those areas included outdoor areas near Raymond James Stadium, downtown Tampa and in entertainment districts, including Ybor City, the Channel District (Channelside) and the Central Business District. The order remains in effect until Feb. 13. This was in addition to the NFL requiring masks to be worn at all times inside the stadium and NFL events unless actively eating or drinking.

Before the Super Bowl, masks were only required indoors. Starting Sept. 25, as part of the state’s Phase 3 reopening plan that allowed bars and restaurants to open at 100% capacity, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis banned localities from collecting fines from individuals not wearing masks. Castor had disagreed with the governor on this, believing local municipalities should be determining the rules most appropriate for their cities and counties. She also had disagreed previously with the governor on the reopening of bars and breweries.

Some local jurisdictions, like Miami — the state’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic — fought DeSantis on this, but DeSantis signed an executive order prohibiting local governments from collecting fines from individuals, although private businesses have had the right to deny service to those not wearing masks. But some believe that leadership above Castor, as well as a “vacationer mentality,” made Castor’s job more difficult.

“Yes, we did see some videos,” Castor said. “We did see some individuals that weren’t wearing a mask. And at this point, in dealing with COVID-19, there is a level of frustration when you see that. It can be passed on to those individuals who are least likely to recover safely from it.”

Still, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell praised the city Monday for putting on what the league deemed a safe Super Bowl, calling it an “extraordinary effort” to host the event. Events that were sanctioned by the NFL, including the NFL Experience, which moved outdoors, and the fireworks display along Riverwalk saw good compliance.

“Really, the upside is — the majority of individuals understood the significance of wearing a mask,” Castor said. “They also understood their level of personal responsibility, and we couldn’t have been successful without that.”

“At this event a year ago, I don’t think any of us would have imagined the challenges that we’re going to have to face,” Goodell said. “The can-do attitude of the people up here [the Super Bowl LV host committee, Castor and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan] and so many others behind them — it was really an extraordinary effort. We always say, ‘It’s a team game.’ This was a great team up here. They really found a way to find solutions to difficult problems and really showed that this community is a ‘can do’ community who can make things happen.”

But tailgates around the stadium, shopping malls, concerts, bars and clubs not affiliated with the NFL experienced problems. Tom DeGeorge, owner of Crowbar, a live music, concert and events venue in Ybor City, expressed frustration over other businesses in his district not complying with orders. He saw the way the NFL and the city put an enormous amount of effort into the production of the Super Bowl on Sunday and at the NFL Experience, but wishes local businesses could have received more help cracking down on violations and managing crowds, as he feels it was insufficient despite an increased police presence.

“For months, you’ve got area businesses saying, ‘What are we gonna do with the overflow of increased traffic into our district to keep our people safe?’ and it’s not really being addressed, that’s a problem,” DeGeorge said, adding that he saw a number of local businesses violating ordinances, like allowing dance floors and putting money over safety. “You’ve gotta stop that many people coming in. We can’t pretend these problems away, that when you have districts like Ybor and special events come into town, that we’re not gonna be put in a situation where all of our health is at risk.”

“Those places were packed, those people made a lot of money, and I just think it’s really, really unfair to everybody else,” DeGeorge said. “I just think that, as a city, the story that we wanted to come out and the way we wanted to portray it isn’t necessarily what really happened here. And I think it’s unfortunate that we’re more concerned with PR than we are about truly taking care of our communities and the people that live here. It’s very unfortunate. And it’s gonna happen against when Wrestlemania comes around.”

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