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Will Super Bowl LV lead to a COVID spike? Let's look to the Lightning celebration

The daily COVID-19 case count began climbing following the Stanley Cup victory, though cases across the U.S. were increasing, too.

TAMPA, Fla. — Time will tell whether fears of Super Bowl LV being a sort of superspreader event begin to pan out, especially with crowds of maskless fans taking to the streets. 

But Tampa has been in this situation before.

This is Champa Bay now -- it was about four months ago the city celebrated the Tampa Bay Lightning's Stanley Cup victory. Back in September, people crowded the Tampa Riverwalk to cheer on the hometown team.

The crowds seen after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' win Sunday night looked similar to those last fall, with a mix of masked-up fans and those celebrating without. It looked like a "frat party," USF public health specialist Dr. Jay Wolfson said at the time during the Lightning celebration, "dangerous" from the view of a public health perspective.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor echoed similar comments Monday after the Super Bowl, saying it's "frustrating" given the amount of messaging to mask up and help to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

RELATED: Tampa mayor frustrated by maskless fans after Super Bowl

RELATED: Super Bowl superspreader? Health experts urge fans to party remotely

With scenes repeating themselves just months apart, health and city leaders say there is good reason to fear the additional spread of the coronavirus. However, the COVID-19 case trend leading up to and after the Stanley Cup boat parade on Sept. 30, 2020, did not significantly spike following the celebration.

New COVID-19 cases among people who live in Florida are seen below at the statewide level in green, with Hillsborough County in black.

Although it appears the daily COVID-19 case count ticked upward in October so, too, did cases across the U.S. as the coronavirus began to spread more rapidly leading up to Election Day.

The chart provided by The COVID Tracking Project, seen below, shows the national picture.

Credit: The COVID Tracking Project

Castor said following the Super Bowl celebrations that it's possible for people to party outside without spreading the virus.

"We didn’t see those spikes after the Stanley Cup events," she said. 

Daily COVID cases in the state of Florida and Hillsborough County have been on the decline since the start of the year, largely mirroring national trends. There are fewer than half as many cases each day now than at the country's peak a month ago, according to The New York Times. But the number of daily deaths reported remains very high.

See the state of Florida's daily case count below in green, with Hillsborough County in black.

Although there are encouraging signs of an improving public health situation -- especially as more vaccines become available nationwide -- experts say now isn't the time to let down the guard. There might come a time, just like last summer going into the fall and holiday season, when the daily COVID-19 case count rises again.

There is particular concern over new virus variants from the U.K., South Africa and elsewhere. And the startling pattern remains the same as rising case counts leads to increased hospitalizations and additional deaths. 

“It may accelerate the spread," said Dr. Thomas Unnasch with USF Health. "It’s another one of these exponential growth things, basically you don’t see much at all happening until all of a sudden it’s right there facing you as a huge problem.”

Until vaccines can be shot into the arms of more Americans, experts continue to stress the basics: wear a mask and remain socially distant to limit the spread of COVID-19.

RELATED: County-by-county COVID-19 vaccine information for Tampa Bay seniors

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