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COVID-19 Update: Tampa Bars and Events Reopen

By Juliana Walter

Heads were turned to Florida last week as anti-mask protesters marched through a Target in Fort Lauderdale. But despite COVID-19 still running rampant across the United States and cases starting to grow again internationally, Florida has seen lower numbers as it’s no longer a major hotspot for the virus. Because of this, the state is starting to reopen.

Florida’s positivity rate continued to stay below 5% from Saturday, Sept. 5 to Tuesday, Sept. 15 and the numbers have remained about the same since then, according to the Florida Department of Health. In the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough county remains the heaviest hit in the area. The current positive case number stands at 40,349 for Hillsborough alone, compared to Pinellas county with 21,359 and Sarasota county with 7,795.

After bars (that do not serve food) opened back up last week, many people in the Tampa area immediately returned to going out. But bars still must maintain social distancing rules to remain open for business.

A junior advertising and public relations major at The University of Tampa, who wishes to remain anonymous, was one of the many students who attended a socially distanced bar this past weekend.

“For the most part I thought the bar I went to did alright with social distancing,” said the anonymous student. “I feel they could have enforced it more, but they had a good basis of rules. Only 26 people were allowed in the building at a time.”

There must be a 50% capacity for all indoor space, including restrooms and waiting areas. While outdoor seating is completely open, tables must be socially distanced from one another. Customers must be seated by an employee to be served, which means that night clubs without seating will remain closed until further notice or until adequate seating is provided.

The Tampa Police Department has overseen bars following the reopening restrictions. This past weekend police officers were seen through South Howard Ave. (SOHO) and Ybor City districts monitoring bars.

 “I have seen other UT students going out, multiple nights and establishments consistently,” said the anonymous student. “I think I may refrain from going to bars and clubs for the most part. If I were to go again, I would maintain social distancing and wear a mask the best I could.”

With positive COVID-19 cases rising at UT from 20 on Friday, Sept. 4,  87 on Friday, Sept. 11, and105 on Friday, Sept. 18, some students are still being cautious about the risk of going out.

Amanda Rivera, junior education major,  has been taking extra precaution after her friend tested positive for COVID-19.

“I just think it’s going to keep getting worse, especially with people going to the bar,” said Rivera. “It doesn’t make sense for some people to stay home and be safe while others go out if we are all going to end up having to see each other anyway.”

But it is not just bars that have to figure out how to reopen. Large events around the Tampa area are facing issues with social distance measures to follow the rules. Busch Gardens has had to rethink their annual “Howl-O-Scream” event.

With social distancing in mind, a limited amount of tickets (reservation only) is being sold for each night of the event. Guests will be temperature screened as they enter the property and must wear a mask throughout the entire event. All Howl-O-Scream scare zones have been moved from their usual indoor locations to open-air outdoor facilities.

Other events in Tampa, like Gasparilla are still hoping to occur once again. According to a recent Tampa Bay Times article, Gasparilla’s EventFest president Darrell Stefany said the event and the fun will still go on in January with safety precautions in mind.  But many feel that it is too far out to plan for 2021 as these events depend on how people react to the novel virus now.

“I just feel much more comfortable hanging out at friend’s apartments and just surrounded by those specific people,” said the anonymous student from UT.

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