UPDATE: Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Thursday morning that general admission to the Firestone Grand Prix was cancelled. He said he would make an announcement later Thursday about the race itself.
It’s a green flag for the Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg this weekend, despite concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are ready to embrace the race here in St. Petersburg,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said at a Wednesday morning news conference.
He tempered his enthusiasm with a dose of caution, urging race spectators, as well as everyone in the city, to practice good hygiene, and to stay home and watch the March 15 race on TV if they are not feeling well or are in a high-risk health category, including older people and those with chronic illnesses.
The news conference occurred just hours after the first two cases of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, were confirmed in Pinellas County. Two men, both in their 60s who had traveled recently, have self-isolated, Kriseman said, and their contact with others has been minimal.
“I was advised that … our county remains at low risk and that there has been no community spread,” Kriseman said. “However, we also understand given the limited testing to date that this status and the data available is very fluid. As it relates to this race, attendees and residents of this city should know we are taking every precaution we can to ensure it is a safe experience.”
Race organizers have taken extraordinary steps this year to protect against infectious diseases, adding handwashing stations and hand sanitizing stations, as well as two handwashing trailers that are multi-fauceted units, said Kevin Savoree, co-owner of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which produces the race.
The Grand Prix in St. Petersburg is the inaugural race for the IndyCar season and draws thousands of spectators, but it’s a mostly regional crowd, attracting people who live within 75 miles of the area, Savoree said. That reduces the likelihood of a spectator coming from an area that’s seen more cases of coronavirus.
Drivers come from all over the world, but they have been in the United States for more than 14 days, the time frame considered the incubation period for coronavirus. IndyCar has confirmed that with the drivers, Savoree said.
There has not been any discussion of holding the race without spectators, Savoree said.
The city has been working closely with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County and other partners to follow guidance from the state health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control, said the city’s emergency manager Amber Boulding, with St. Petersburg Fire/Rescue Emergency Operations. That includes guidance for mass gatherings.
“We’ve taken that and operationalized it to fit our city, “ Boulding said. “The plan is multi-layered strategy and includes a public education component at the event, as well as encouraging good hygiene practices and the procedures for our public safety team, fire/rescue and police, to follow if a participant is exhibiting any signs of Covid-19.
“It’s meant to be a fun event. If everyone does their part – practice good hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, stay home if you are sick – we’re hopeful and confident that we’ll have a great outcome and we’re prepared for any eventuality that may pop up during the event,” Boulding said.
Kriseman said he’s been on the phone frequently with health officials from Pinellas County, the state and the CDC.
“We’re trying to be data- and science-based in our decision making. I think it’s important to rely on good science and good data to make those decisions. If something were to change then we will sit down with those folks and make decisions based on the data and the science they share with us and act accordingly,” Kriseman said. “But at this point at time, we’re at low risk, we’re not at community spread and so we are still a go for Sunday.”