TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — New Year’s Eve on South Howard Avenue in Tampa looked like any pre-pandemic celebration.
Bars were packed with patrons, many sitting outside in newly-converted parking lot patios. The young crowds appeared to be having a great time, but social distancing and masks were not on their agenda.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says she has seen the images of packed bars on South Howard and in Ybor City.
“It’s so irresponsible. Not only on the individuals part but also on the bar owners’ part and the restaurants,” Castor said. “We have sent letter after letter. We have provided free masks. We have done everything that we can.”
Tampa has sent in code enforcement officers to issue warnings and fines for establishments not enforcing mask rules or social distancing. Tampa police officers were working on South Howard Avenue on New Year’s Eve but did nothing to shut down the pack bars.
Castor says, under the circumstances, that would have been impossible.
“We are doing everything that we can. You know you can look, in theory, of going in and citing everyone that doesn’t have a mask on, but you can imagine going inside of a bar with several hundred people and a couple of officers trying to take control of that?” said Castor.
Despite the video, bar owners say the images don’t tell the whole story.
“We can only control what we can control within the confines of our building. So seeing what you are seeing – what you are seeing from the street – isn’t seeing what we are doing from our perspective,” said Billy Osborne, the general manager of MacDinton’s on South Howard.
Osborne says they greatly restrict the number of customers inside their building, masks are required inside and all employees are given weekly COVID tests with the cost of the test paid for by the bar’s owners.
“We are following the guidelines that we are given. We are following our capacities. We are trying to make a living,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of employees, we are trying to survive and make sure they can take care of their families and pay their bills.”
Mayor Castor says she is considering further action against bars that are repeat offenders with large crowds.
“We are going to continue to notch it up and if it calls for the closing of those establishments, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Castor.