TAMPA BAY,Fla — Concerts, events, and restaurants are trying to find ways to balance safety during this pandemic with staying open for business. Some events in the Tampa Bay area are updating their COVID-19 policies to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
Gasparilla Music Festival announced everyone will be required to provide a negative COVID test result to enter the festival grounds, though if you’re vaccinated, you can provide proof of vaccination instead. Last week, a similar update came down for the Harry Styles concert at Amalie Arena in October.
“I think it’s a great way of trying to reduce transmission in indoor spaces where you’re going to have a lot of people packed together,” said Distinguished USF Health professor Dr. Thomas Unnasch. “This was something I was actually hoping that our private industry would start to do because it’s going to protect the people who are going to these performances and also provide a pretty good incentive to get vaccinated, isn’t it?”
Earlier this year, the Governor signed a bill banning businesses, government entities, or educational institutions from requiring proof of COVID vaccination, or vaccine passports. A Florida Department of Health rule that takes effect September 16 means violators will face a $5,000 fine.
Governor Ron DeSantis commented on vaccine passports in Pensacola on Friday.
“I think some of the stuff with the vaccine passports, I mean it’s an overreach, it’s too intrusive, and at the end of the day, my philosophy is as Governor, my job is to protect your individual freedom. My job is not to protect corporate freedom,” said DeSantis.
ABC Action News reached out to the Governor’s Office on proof of vaccination and testing policies. A spokesperson cited the legislation to protect Floridians' rights from vaccine passports, with a statement reading in part: “Nobody can be denied entry, service, or education because they decline to show their vaccine passport.”
The statement also noted: “Businesses are still allowed to make their own policies regarding masks, testing, capacity, and other COVID protocols. This would not be prohibited under [the legislation].”
UPDATE: Harry Styles at Amalie Arena on Sunday, October 10 will require proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours of the event OR full COVID-19 vaccination for entry, in addition to wearing a mask inside the venue. pic.twitter.com/w6VM3N5mxr
— Amalie Arena (@AmalieArena) August 25, 2021
Moving forward, some public health experts think these either-or policies could persuade some to ultimately roll up their sleeves.
“If you can’t attend concerts, if you can’t go to restaurants, you can’t do things, and your life is quite limited because you haven’t been vaccinated, I think there are going to be a lot of people who are going to say, ‘You know, forget about it. I’m just going to get vaccinated so I can get my life back,” said Dr. Unnasch.