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OPINION: Upcoming events should be reconsidered after Gasparilla cancellation

Canceling Gasparilla, one of Tampa’s most well-known traditions, was a tough but necessary measure to ensure the safety of thousands who would have attended. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and EventFest announced Tuesday the cancellation of the annual Tampa tradition Gasparilla. The parade and ensuing events usually attract over 300,000 participants from Tampa and neighboring cities and states. 

Canceling Gasparilla may have prevented a possible spike in COVID-19 cases in our community, potentially saving thousands of lives in the process. Coordinators of events similar to Gasparilla need to take a hint and reconsider hosting large gatherings in the Tampa Bay area during a pandemic. 

Gasparilla’s many festivities aren’t exactly conducive to a safe, COVID-19-free environment. The celebrations typically last all day and into the evening, with thousands of patrons in the streets, filling up bars and restaurants until the early hours of the next morning. 

Realizing the challenges of organizing such an event, Pete Lackman, captain of the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, had originally tried collaborating with the City of Tampa and Tampa General Hospital to create a plan to ensure the health and safety measures of the event. However, they felt that the best decision was to cancel the event.

“Knowing how Gasparilla is, it’s hard to imagine social distancing going on as Gasparilla brings hundreds of thousands of people to Bayshore,” Lackman said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.

Inviting such a large group of people to one place would have caused an unnecessary and preventable spike in COVID-19 cases. Similar events Tampa has hosted during the pandemic have proven this would have been the case if Gasparilla had gone forward. 

After the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup parade Sept. 28, positive coronavirus cases increased from 176 to 333 cases from before the parade to mid-november, according to USF professor of public health Jay Wolfson in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

Even though this increase cannot be directly linked to the parade, Wolfson said he “is sure” the celebration factored into the spike in cases. 

In contrast, Tampa doesn’t seem to have negatively been affected by Super Bowl festivities which were arguably more packed than the Stanley Cup parade. 

However, according to Douglas Holt, director of Hillsborough County’s Health Department, it’s too early to tell if the Super Bowl caused a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the area.

Whether or not the Super Bowl caused a surge in cases should not take away from preventing possible future increases. The City of Tampa and coordinators of other large events need to make a concerted effort to avoid causing cases to rise any more. 

The Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago Parade, another big event that usually occurs after Gasparilla, also announced Wednesday the cancellation of their annual parade as well. This is a sign that other festivities are realizing the difficulties of hosting large gatherings while also trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Two major events that draw large groups of people to the Tampa Bay area, the Florida Strawberry Festival and Tampa Pride, have not released any plans to change their celebrations. The Florida Strawberry Festival is an 11-day event in March that attracts over 500,000 people annually, according to its website. The website has also given no signs to the public that any features of the festival, including fair rides, concerts and eating contests, are downsizing this year to protect fair goers against COVID-19.

Tampa Pride will be a similar sight — but possibly even closer together — to the Strawberry Festival as a festival and diversity parade are scheduled May 22 for participants to party down Ybor City’s snug streets and end with Pride at Night inside the Cuban Club. In 2019, over 40,000 people attended, according to a 2019 Tampa Bay Times article. 

With the number of people they are expected to attract, these events should follow a similar route as Gasparilla and the Sant’ Yago Parade and postpone or cancel until participants are able to fully enjoy the festivities with guaranteed safety. 

Canceling Gasparilla is the correct step toward preventing COVID-19 case spikes in our community. Upcoming event coordinators should aim to mitigate the possible spread of the virus by taking precautions or going as far as canceling their events to ensure the health and safety of our community.