Large New Year’s Eve crowds in Tampa draw concerns from health officials

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH CO., Fla. (WFLA) — As the CDC urged people to be cautious and stay home for New Year’s Eve, there were shocking sights in the bay area.

8 On Your Side found large crowds packed into South Tampa bars. Those scenes are re-igniting fears that we will continue seeing high infection rates.

On South Howard Avenue, there were many people not wearing a mask or social distancing. 8 On Your Side reached out to three of the bars in that area. Owners and management at two of them declined to speak Friday morning.

Sam Hart and Evan Lawson were in town for the Outback Bowl. They were out on New Year’s Eve, but when they were shown video of the crowds on South Howard Avenue, they were surprised.

“That’s a lot,” Lawson said. “Where we were was never that packed.”

On Thursday, the Florida Department of Health reported more than 17,000 new coronavirus cases, the largest single-day jump in new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

“When you say I’m in bars, crowded and not wearing a mask that’s all three protections gone and that’s the ripest you can be for transmission,” Chief of Infectious Diseases at Moffitt Doctor John Greene said.

Dr. Greene said the reason why we’re seeing high infection rates is because of scenes like the ones that played out Thursday night.

“If you don’t want to protect yourself then protect your parents and grandparents, or someone else’s parent or grandparent,” Green said.

Others say while bars were busy, they didn’t feel uncomfortable.

“If you feel there were too many people, if that’s the case then don’t go out,” one woman said.

8 On Your Side reached out to the mayor’s office and Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough to get their reaction to the large crowds. A city spokeswoman said to contact Tampa Police late Friday.

The Tampa Police Department sent 8 On Your Side an email regarding Thursday night:

Leading up to New Year’s Eve, the Tampa Police Department worked in partnership with City of Tampa Code Enforcement to educate business owners regarding face-covering requirements put in place by the city to slow the spread of Covid-19.

We are pleased that the majority of our residents and businesses take active roles to help slow the spread of Covid-19. We are also aware of video, taken as entertainment establishments were beginning to close, that shows individuals in the street not wearing masks as they prepared to head home. We encourage these individuals to review CDC guidelines and keep up to date on Covid-19 information so they, too, can help slow the spread.

As we enter the new year, Tampa Police will continue to assist Tampa Code Enforcement in addressing this ongoing public health safety concern.

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