Health officials worry Tampa's Super Bowl celebrations were superspreader events

The massive crowds that celebrated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl win Sunday left medical experts concerned about a possible spike in COVID-19 cases.

Following the Bucs' victory, fans flooded the streets in Tampa, many of them ignoring COVID safety rules, including mask use.

"We had tens of thousands of people all over the city: Downtown, out by the stadium, Ybor City," said Mayor Jane Castor during a Monday morning news conference. "It is a little frustrating because we have worked so hard in cooperation with the NFL and the county and just a number of different entities putting the executive order in place that masks had to be worn in specific areas that we knew groups would be congregating."

Dr. Thomas Unnasch, with University of South Florida Health, said he thinks a lot of young fans, who may have already had COVID-19, were too complacent during the celebrations.

"Some of the younger crowd, the undergraduate crowd, who tested positive back in June and July, [are] now coming back and testing positive again, which means they are getting re-infected," Unnasch said. "The natural immunity from these mild infections is not really that long-lasting and chances are a lot of those people out there said, 'Well I had it in June, so I'm immune.' Maybe not."

Unnasch also told FOX 13 he's concerned that these celebrations are coming during a time when COVID-19 variants are spreading.

"That could lead to a really substantial uptick in infections," said Unnasch. "So anything that we can do ahead of that to slow the growth of that is something that would be really useful and having these big parties and encouraging super-spreading type things is probably not the best thing we want to do."

As Mayor Castor now plans a victory parade, she's confident more people will follow COVID safety guidelines during celebrations that are more controlled.

"We didn't see those spikes after we won the Stanley Cup, so there just has to be that level of personal responsibility," she said.

Castor also reminded the community her expanded mask ordinance remains in effect and requires mask use in entertainment areas of Tampa, including Ybor City, the South Howard Avenue neighborhood and Channelside.