Super Bowl or super spreader?
I want to start by saying congratulations to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on winning the Super Bowl, and I hope everyone enjoyed The Weeknd's performance. The game was great, but I want to talk about something other than Tom Brady winning his seventh ring. Even though the stands were not something that most people look at while watching the game, I couldn't help but notice the amount of people that were inside the stadium in the height of a pandemic. Why were people allowed to be there? And were there regulations in place to ensure their safety?
According to the NFL website, 7,500 vaccinated health care workers were invited to Super Bowl LV. All these health care workers had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and came from hospitals in Tampa and central Florida. In addition to these health care workers there were also 14,500 additional fans in attendance. The NFL has stated that they were in communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Public Health to go over their COVID-19 regulations and plans during the game. These protocols included but were not limited to mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, podded seating and touchless in-stadium experiences at concessions, restrooms and security checkpoints.
Although a lot of people might be wary of going to a Super Bowl, or any kind of sporting event during the pandemic, some health care workers hope that attending Super Bowl LV will boost the public's confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine. In addition to that, the NFL stated that their goal in inviting health care workers to the game was to recognize their work during the pandemic and to give them something to smile about. Emergency health care worker Michelle Moran, for example, stated to ABC news, “Oh my gosh. I am a big football fan. You guys have no idea. This just made my day.”
Not everyone welcomed health care workers to the game with open arms. According to a 2021 USA Today article, there were about 20 maskless protestors at the front of the stadium preaching their opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine. They yelled, “Please don't get the vaccine, the media lied to you.” In addition, they gave out sheets of paper titled Fauci Facts. These facts falsely implied that Fauci’s support of the vaccine over the past year is linked to an increase in chronic disease in children, despite the fact that children under 16 are unable to get the vaccine and there is no evidence to back up the claims of the protestors.
All the planning and regulations sound great, but were they actually practiced on game day? KTLA interviewed John Goodman and his wife Alison McMillian, who attended the game with their two teenage sons. “It was a pain,” Goodman said in the interview. “There was no direction.” In addition, he told reporters that there were users that held signs that reminded people of the new rules, but there were still violators in every direction. Goodman said he saw fans standing elbow to elbow, ignoring the cardboard cut out seat fillers as well as family members of players running onto the field in large, maskless crowds after the game.
I am by no means a professional on the COVID-19 pandemic or an expert on how to reduce the spread. I do think that the idea of having fans might have been a little premature because as a country we have not yet gained control over the pandemic. It would have been good to only have vaccinated health care workers there because that would not have created the risk of a super spreader event.