Super-spreader Super Bowl?


Zach Gilbert

While officials were as health conscious as possible throughout the planning of Super Bowl LV, it’s highly likely that the game still contributed to further spread of coronavirus. Photo courtesy of AP.

Though Super Bowl LV took numerous health precautions to protect the nearly 25,000 fans that attended the game last Sunday evening, some health experts are still worried that it may have been a coronavirus superspreader event.

“On paper, it looks reassuring,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco told Insider in a recent interview. “But the reality is sobering.”

According to ESPN, coaches and players for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs were tested twice daily before the Feb. 7 game in Tampa, Florida. Any player with a positive test would’ve been ruled out for the Super Bowl.

The 25,000 fans in attendance were spread out across the 75,000 seats of Raymond James Stadium, with 30,000 cardboard cutouts of supporters who could not be present filling the empty space.

Chin-Hong commends the Super Bowl for these efforts, but he remains skeptical of the safety of the event overall. Though 7,500 individuals in attendance were fully vaccinated healthcare workers, everyone else at the game was not required to be vaccinated or tested in advance – and that accounts for more than half of the total attendees.

Hosting the game at an open-air stadium helps alleviate some concerns, but there are other variables that continually worry Chin-Hong.

“Any time you have 25,000 potentially inebriated people together shouting, yelping, and screaming in one place in the middle of a pandemic, you are bound to have transmission,” he said, as alcohol use can influence individuals to neglect safety protocols.

In addition, shouting and yelling can propel droplets of saliva that cause COVID-19 past six-foot social distancing guidelines. Given that the game was nearly four hours, this gave the virus more time to potentially spread amongst attendees.

To make matters worse, the state of Florida – where Super Bowl LV took place – is currently grappling with its latest coronavirus surge, and while the situation has been steadily improving, Sunday was the 40th consecutive day of reporting with a triple digit death toll, according to The Miami-Herald.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also seem to suggest that Florida has more cases of the UK variant of coronavirus than any other state in the country, causing even more concern in Chin-Hong’s opinion.

“The variants circulating are at best more transmissible – at worst, will cause more severe disease and make out vaccines not work as well,” he said.

For Chin-Hong, there’s no doubt that some coronavirus transmission occurred at Super Bowl LV.

“The question is how much,” he stated. “And that is just the game – not the parties in Tampa’s open bars and in people’s private homes [across the country].”