On Sunday, Feb. 7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Kansas City Chiefs in the 55th annual Super Bowl. The Bucs won 31-9, and celebrations ensued—potentially creating a superspreader event for COVID-19.
The National Football League hosted 22,000 fans in the Raymond James Stadium, which can seat over 65,000. There were also plenty of events going on outside the stadium. Fans who could not attend the game itself gathered for watch parties.
During the days before the game, there were plenty of activities by the Hillsborough Riverfront, but these events aren’t the cause for concern.
Directly after the win, a classic Super Bowl celebration happened in the streets of Tampa. Much like the streets of Philadelphia in 2019, Tampa was packed with thousands of people. Pictures have surfaced of maskless fans climbing up streetlight posts, ripping out traffic signs, and starting brawls in the road.
According to the Tampa government website, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor expanded the mask mandate ahead of the Super Bowl, which ordered people to wear masks in event areas and carried a $500 fine if violated. This didn’t stop people from going out and packing the streets, both masked and unmasked.
A few days after the game, fans crowded along the Hillsborough River to watch Tom Brady shakily throw the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Rob Gronkowski, who were both gliding along on seperate boats. Hundreds of other vessels joined by their sides.
Both sides of the water were packed—the riverwalk and Plant Park on UT’s campus. The University of Tampa’s Instagram page has photographs of students closely packed together, with most people in the background not wearing masks of any kind.
The most concerning celebrations come from bars, clubs, and massive parties with celebrity appearances. A party where both 50 Cent and Diplo performed attracted tons of unmasked people. Club Prana advertised a “5 Story Super Party,” which can be seen on their Instagram. Large indoor events are among the worst spreaders of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The celebrations don’t come as a surprise, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come as a disappointment. Many restrictions in the state have been lifted for some time, which means clubs around Tampa have been packed full of people for months, with most not wearing masks or practicing social distancing of any kind.
UT did not do much to discourage students from attending either of these events—an email was sent out warning students to be responsible drinkers during the Super Bowl. The parade was met with a measly suggestion to wear a mask when social distancing wasn’t possible.
If the school doesn’t discourage this kind of behavior, of course students aren’t going to care enough to think about how their actions are affecting the greater Tampa community. Students should be taking more responsibility for their own actions, but when our school acts like no pandemic is going on, it’s not hard to wonder why not enough people listen to COVID-19 guidelines.
These students are going to classes with others who want no part in the super-spreader events—both students and professors alike. It is uncomfortable going to class and not knowing if the person sitting closest to you risked catching the coronavirus at one of the events, and is now in class, possibly exposing others.
Students who are doing their part to slow and stop the spread are feeling discouraged by the school’s lack of enforcement of the Spartan Shield guidelines that are meant to keep everyone safe.
With the vaccine rolling out slowly, and almost a year gone by since the first lockdown, people are anxious to get back to normal life. Except, now is still not the time. COVID-19 will continue to spread rapidly after these events, causing more infections and more deaths of vulnerable people who are trying to go about their day.
UT needs to do a better job of encouraging students to make the right decisions. Freedom is a wonderful thing to gain in college, but with a global pandemic going on, circumstances are different. Freedom to life should be the number one priority, but people are risking the lives of others in their community by doing whatever they choose and ignoring guidelines to help stop COVID-19.