The Cost of Tampa’s Pandemic Fatigue
December 7, 2020
On Dec. 2, Florida surpassed one million cases of COVID-19. It’s the third state to do so following California and Texas, the two current epicenters of the virus in the US. Yet in lieu of mask mandates or shutdowns, it’s business as usual for many of Florida’s counties –– Hillsborough included.
Florida’s Hillsborough County houses 1.5 million inhabitants across nearly twenty cities, including Citrus Park, Carrollwood, Brandon, Riverview, and Tampa. Hillsborough County also houses 60,761 total coronavirus cases, surpassing the awaited 60,000 earlier this week.
As the most inhabited city of the county, Tampa holds an unsurprising responsibility for the recent surge in cases. But with the general lack of responsibility by leaders, businesses, and citizens to stop the spread itself, conditions are expected to worsen.
Tampa schools and workplaces have done their best to control the spread with mask mandates and increased sanitization efforts. But outside of mandated environments, there’s been a steady decline in people observing spread-reducing measures since Sep. 1. Attendees of South Tampa attractions like Hyde Park Village, Armature Works, and Downtown Tampa are some of the main culprits of relaxed guidelines.
Spanning six city-blocks in South Tampa, Hyde Park Village is a hub for refined dining and shopping. The site is often bustling with people of all ages looking to relax, eat, exercise, or shop — and although the mall is outdoors where COVID spread is less likely to occur, the sidewalks are narrow and frequently populated enough that crowds often form when walking from place to place.
Restaurants like Forbici, Bartaco, and Meat Market Steakhouse are not only open, but packed with consumers who are not required to wear masks when seated — and masks in themselves are a rare sight at Hyde Park unless a store requires them for entry.
“I went to Hyde Park the other day to do some Christmas shopping, and every store was crowded with people. I was amazed that the restaurants were especially packed, and it was only 4 p.m. When I walked past these restaurants, only some people had masks on if they weren’t sitting at their tables. Nobody had masks on at their tables, even if they weren’t eating,” said Claire Wong (‘22).
Armature Works, another popular Tampa site for eats, entertainment, and shopping, has become lax on COVID regulations. Located inside a refurbished cigar factory in Downtown Tampa, Armature Works was notorious for its push-and-shove crowds before the pandemic. While masks are frequent at Armature Works today, the crowds are present as before, making it difficult for social-distancing to occur.
While many believe that masks do not need to be worn outside, the CDC says otherwise — being outside is generally safer than being inside, but the CDC still maintains that a mask cannot be worn in place of social distancing. People must wear masks when staying six feet apart is not possible, even if they are outdoors.
Since Dec. 2, over 10,000 new cases of COVID have been reported each day in Florida. Interestingly, the masses are in no hurry to take drastic measures to contain the spread. Though cases spike, citizens are steadily disregarding COVID precautions. In Hillsborough especially, business is set to continue as usual as pandemic fatigue grips the county.
“Personally, I’m just tired of the pandemic-fear consuming my everyday life. While I still wear masks and social distance when I go places, I’m starting to return to my normal life like it was before COVID, but I would love for normalcy and activities like traveling and gathering in crowds to resume soon without having to worry,” said Olivia Book (‘23).
Hillsborough County requires citizens to wear a mask indoors when social distancing is not possible, but enforcement has been difficult as Governor Ron DeSantis prohibited the distribution of fines to violators. DeSantis extended that order in late November, which also restricts the ability of restaurants to limit their capacity.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, DeSantis has placed his focus on Florida’s economic stability. Even as case counts soar, DeSantis has made it clear that he will not implement mandates or another state shutdown. “I’m opposed to mandates, period. I don’t think they work,” said DeSantis during his first press conference in nearly a month.
While a state-wide mandate is unlikely, the implementations by local governments have been extremely effective. According to USF Health, Hillsborough’s requirement of wearing masks indoors has prevented up to 1.4 million additional cases of COVID-19.
But with the entirety of Florida recently surpassing one million cases, experts at USF Health of University of South Florida believe the situation could worsen if action is not taken.
“I think it’s taken us a long time to hit one million, but if we do see an increase in these holidays, and just where we are right now, the rate where we’re going, we may see 2 million by the turn of the year, 2021,” said Dr. Tom Unnasch of USF Health.
Cases of COVID-19 are rising rapidly in our community. Don't let what you do today change your world forever. Avoid large gatherings, practice social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get tested if you are ill.
— City of Tampa (@CityofTampa) November 30, 2020
Late January 2021 is also the predicted time of a new spike in Florida cases, according to officials at USF Health. In preparation, Tampa General Hospital has even opened a new unit dedicated to the treatment of COVID patients. But the devastation of this new wave is not set in stone.
“[The duration and strength of the surge] depends on the strength of the current social measures being practiced by the Tampa Bay community,” said Dr. Edwin Michael of USF College of Public Health.
With the approach of the holiday season and the ninth month of lockdowns, the rise of pandemic fatigue is unsurprising. But to prevent a devastating start to the new year, Florida citizens must continue to follow CDC guidelines. Over 10,000 new cases and 90 deaths are reported each day, with rates increasing by the week — at the very least, to step towards rebuilding normalcy, citizens should continue to wash their hands, social distance, and wear a mask.