With Florida reporting 3,615 more positive COVID-19 cases on Monday, its lowest since early October 2020, the aftermath of one of the largest gatherings in the country since the outbreak of the pandemic threatens to send those numbers back in the opposite direction.
Super Bowl LV saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, marking the first time any National Football League team has won a Super Bowl title at their home field. This, combined with the [then] prospect of Tampa’s first Super Bowl victory in over 18 years, made for some rather large gatherings both in and around Raymond James stadium.
Some 25,000 fans were permitted entrance to Raymond James for the big game on February 7. Among the eager fans, around 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers from around the Tampa Bay area were given free tickets as a ‘thank you’ for their sacrifice and dedication. While the NFL and local Tampa Bay officials took major precautionary steps to help make the historic matchup as safe as possible (requiring all fans to wear a mask both in the Stadium and at events on Tampa’s Riverwalk, as well as supplying attendees with masks and hand sanitizer), mass gatherings after the game threaten to undo months of hard work by the Tampa community.
“Every time we do have something like this, there is always a spike”
The fear of such a backward step came when photos of maskless party-goers celebrating at crowded bars surfaced. Concerns grew even more as thousands attended Tampa’s waterfront boat parade on the Wednesday following the Super Bowl. Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert, stated in an interview before the game, “Every time we do have something like this, there is always a spike” in COVID-19 cases.
Local health experts, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed caution against large gatherings for Super Bowl-related events in the weeks leading up to kickoff, prompting the Director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, to issue a virtual statement on the Thursday before the game. She urged Americans to, “watch the game from home,” and said that “now is not the time to let our guard down.”
A spike in new COVID-19 cases after a significant gathering or event is not unusual. Upticks in positive cases, such as those being predicted to happen in the wake of Super Bowl LV, have happened very recently. In November and December of 2020, COVID-19 cases rose dramatically in the weeks leading up to both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Large, crowded gatherings such as air travel and mall shopping led cases to skyrocket from 149,378 new cases on November 26, 2020, to 314,093 new cases on January 8, 2021, alone, according to the CDC.
A rise in cases would come at a time in which states across America, including Florida, are setting record low numbers in new case rates. In this instance, numbers have been steadily falling due to the increasing number of vaccinations that have been administered (11.5% of Americans with at least one dose). However, the threat of a new strain of COVID has many worried about the possible implications of a ‘super spreader’ event such as those at Raymond James. The new strain in question, the B.1.1.7 variant, which experts say is much more aggressive than its counterpart, is becoming an increasing threat in the state. Florida now leads the country with 379 reported cases as of Sunday, February 14, according to the CDC.
While experts say it’s still too early to see the effects that Super Bowl LV will have, hospitals across Hillsborough county continue to brace for possible surges in COVID-19 related cases. Anyone who participated in any Super Bowl events is urged to closely monitor their health and seek medical attention if symptoms arise.
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