The aftermath of Super Bowl LV is raising concerns about COVID-19 case surges in both the Tampa metro area, where the game took place, and across the nation, where groups of people gathered for Super Bowl parties despite warnings from public health officials.
In Tampa, 25,000 people gathered in Raymond James Stadium for the game, including 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers. Fans sat among cardboard cutouts to give the illusion of a full stadium, and though they were wearing masks, USA Today reports some reasons for concern from the game itself.
Its article noted that on the same day it hosted Super Bowl LV, Florida became the first state to report 200 cases of coronavirus variants.
The revelry went beyond the stadium—the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the contest, which resulted in maskless fans gathering to celebrate in public locations throughout Tampa. Another USA Today report noted, “The festivities turned especially raucous outside the Tampa Convention Center downtown, where college-aged revelers cheered, guzzled alcohol, and sometimes surrounded cars that were blaring music.”
“It’s been a long year with COVID,’’ one 25-year-old fan told the reporter, who noted that few people in the throng wore masks. “People are ready to party.’’
Tampa Bay Times photographer Luis Santana captured celebrations in the popular Ybor City district; an accompanying story reported Santana estimated that tens of thousands of people crowded the streets of Ybor City after midnight the night before the game.
“His images show an ebb and flow of the crowd,” the paper conveyed, “with traffic able to negotiate the street at some points but at others, people shoulder to shoulder with little separation in the middle of the street.”
“At this point in dealing with COVID-19, there is a level of frustration when you see that,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said at a Feb. 8 news conference, commenting on the celebrations before and after the game.
But post-Super Bowl COVID concerns go beyond what happened in Tampa.
“When people get together in private residences in close proximity, that is one of the single most effective ways to spread this disease,” Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack told CNN. “We can’t afford to have the disease spread now, with these mutations and these variants.”
Without “decisive and immediate public health action,” researchers warned in the CNN story, more transmissible variants like the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the U.K. “will likely have devastating consequences to COVID-19 mortality and morbidity in the U.S. in a few months.”
There are, however, encouraging signs in the latest national coronavirus numbers. CNN noted that the U.S. reached its eighth consecutive day with less than 100,000 people hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The seven-day average of new cases has dropped to 120,000 on Feb. 6 from 220,000 a month prior.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, attributes that to “a combination of the natural peaking [from the holiday season] as well as people doubling down on the public health measures,” though Super Bowl-related gatherings could potentially result in an uptick in the coming days.