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February 5, 2021

Why experts are so worried about Super Bowl 'superspreader' parties

Daily Briefing

    Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner, but it's not just football fans who are anxious about the day's outcome. Public health experts are worried that Super Bowl celebrations may become the next Covid-19 superspreading event.

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    Experts fear Super Bowl parties may drive larger coronavirus spikes than recent holidays

    Since America's coronavirus epidemic began, the country has seen spikes in new coronavirus cases following major holidays, including Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Public health experts believe those spikes were tied to people gathering over the holidays, with the largest spikes occurring after Thanksgiving and Christmas—holidays for which families typically gather together indoors.

    That trend is making public health experts particularly concerned about Super Bowl Sunday, which some believe could drive a spike in new coronavirus cases even larger than America saw following other holidays for several reasons.

    For one, some metrics have indicated that past gatherings for sporting events led to coronavirus outbreaks, the New York Times reports. For example, health officials in Los Angeles believe that gatherings held last fall to watch playoff games for basketball and baseball accelerated the coronavirus's spread in Southern California, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles Times reports that many of those gatherings included packed crowds with some people not wearing masks and some people "chanting, singing, or shouting"—activities that have been linked to spreading the novel coronavirus.

    Further, research suggests that a substantial number of people plan to attend Super Bowl Sunday parties, the Times reports. Separate surveys from the National Retail Federation and Seton Hall University, for instance, found that about 30% of adult respondents said they'd watch the Super Bowl at a bar or restaurant or at a gathering taking place in someone's home.

    And public health experts note that Super Bowl gatherings are even more concerning than recent holiday gatherings, because while holiday gatherings typically involve members of the same family, Super Bowl gatherings often involve people from more households and families, the New York Times reports. That could mean they have the potential to affect larger swaths of people.

    In addition, while indoor gatherings have been high-risk throughout the epidemic, they may pose an even greater risk of contracting and transmitting the novel coronavirus now. That's because new coronavirus variants are circulating in the United States that research suggests are more contagious, and perhaps deadlier, than the original version of the virus, expert say.

    Experts urge Americans to abstain from Super Bowl parties

    Because of the increased risks that could come with Super Bowl gatherings, public health experts and officials are urging Americans not to host or attend such events.

    Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the White House's Covid-19 response team, during an interview with NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday noted that "there always is a spike" of new coronavirus infections following events where people typically gather with others who don't live in their household. To prevent a spike following the Super Bowl, Americans should "[e]njoy the game, watch it on television, but do it with the immediate members of your family, the people in your household," Fauci said. "As much fun as it is to get together in a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that."

    "It will be tragic if the Super Bowl becomes a superspreader of coronavirus," Barbara Ferrer, the public health director of Los Angeles County, said. "Don't organize a party at home. Don't go to a Super Bowl party," she added.

    Similarly, CDC in guidelines issued last week warned that "attending large gatherings like the Super Bowl increases your risk of getting and spreading Covid-19." The agency urged people to watch the game at home with people who live in their household instead of hosting or attending a Super Bowl gathering.

    And if people do choose to attend such a gathering, CDC said people should contact the event's host or venue ahead of time "to ensure that they have steps in place to prevent the spread of the virus," as well as wear masks, practice physical distancing, and avoid crowded areas during the event. In addition, CDC said people who attend such events should try to avoid using restrooms at the events, specifically during "high traffic times" such as immediately after Super Bowl or during halftime, and to refrain from "chanting or cheering." Instead, CDC suggested that people "stomp, clap, or bring hand-held noisemakers" to use during the event.

    But overall, Rebecca Wurtz of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health said Americans "need to double down" on measures that can curb the novel coronavirus's spread, such as wearing masks, physical distancing, and avoiding gather indoors. "Here's our chance to turn the corner, and we really need to seize it" (Leonhardt, New York Times, 2/3; Money et al., Los Angeles Times, 1/28; Pitofsky, The Hill, 2/1; Bowden, The Hill, 2/3).

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