Where EAST meets the Northwest
Workers sculpt the Lombardi Trophy out of sand outside Raymond James Stadium
ahead of Super Bowl 55 in Tampa, Florida.
The city is hosting Sundayís Super Bowl football game between the Tampa
Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
February 6, 2021
Officials plead: Donít let Super Bowl become superspreader
By Heather Hollingsworth and Curt Anderson
The Associated Press
Kansas City Chiefs superfan Ty Rowton hugged strangers in the streets of
Miami last year after watching his team win the Super Bowl and then joined
hundreds of thousands of fans back home at a victory parade, thinking little of
a mysterious virus that his buddies were beginning to talk about.
The championship seems like a lifetime ago. Now the Chiefs are preparing to
play in the Super Bowl again, and the virus has morphed into a once-in-a-century
pandemic that has health officials on edge as fans congregate at parties and
bars for the game.
The nationís top health officials sounded the alarm this week about the Super
Bowl being a potential superspreader event, and they urged people to gather with
friends over Zoom, not in crowds.
"Iím worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly. People gather, they
watch games together. Weíve seen outbreaks already from football parties," said
Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "So I
really do think that we need to watch this and be careful."
The Super Bowl comes as the nation sees a dramatic drop in new virus cases ó
a sign that the infection spike from holiday gatherings is easing. The virus has
killed more than 459,000 people in the U.S., but the seven-day rolling average
for daily new cases went from 180,489 as of January 22 to 125,854 as of Friday,
according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health officials fear the game could seed new cases at exactly the wrong
time. Just this week, the new coronavirus strain that spread quickly in the
United Kingdom was confirmed in Kansas after turning up in several other states.
Other highly contagious variants also have scientists worried. States are in a
race to vaccinate before the newcomers become widespread and additional strains
After a long year of shutdowns, it remains to be seen whether Americans will
heed the warnings for an event that was watched by more than 100 million people
last year. The fact that itís Tom Brady seeking his seventh Super Bowl victory
against Kansas Cityís star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, only adds to the
intrigue surrounding the game.
Rowton, who goes to games wearing an arrowhead on his head and a cape signed
by players, wonít be hugging strangers this year. But he wonít exactly be
following the advice of health officials either: He plans to eat barbecue and
watch the game in a friendís basement "man cave." He will be unmasked with about
10 other fans.
"I have lost a lot more people to drugs this year who have relapsed, so for
me it is one of those where I canít live in fear because if I do that, I will
probably relapse and start drinking again, and that will end up killing me for
sure," said Rowton, a recovering alcoholic who attended 329 straight home games
before ending the streak this season.
The game will be played in front of about 22,000 fans in Tampa, many of them
vaccinated health workers.
In Tampa, mayor Jane Castor announced a temporary ordinance requiring that
masks be worn outside in several popular gathering spots. The order states that
violators could be fined $500 as a "last resort."
Another ordinance requires masks at any indoor location when social
distancing is not possible. That would include many bars and restaurants but not
The city has acquired 150,000 donated masks that officials will give out to
anyone who needs one in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. The slogan is
"need a mask, just ask."
Castor, a former Tampa police chief who handled law enforcement for past
Super Bowls in the city, said she is keenly aware that the goal is to prevent
the game from becoming an event that triggers a spike in infections.
"We are hosting an event that is going to be the most watched sporting event
in the entire world," she said. "We have got to get this right."
As part of that effort, Castor released a joint video with Kansas City,
Missouri, mayor Quinton Lucas urging caution. Last year, an estimated 20,000
people showed up at the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City to watch
the Super Bowl on a massive screen.
Lucas called for the exact opposite in the video: "I encourage everyone to
celebrate in small groups instead of squeezing into a crowded bar."
The Kansas Hospital Association enlisted the Chiefsí play-by-play announcer
to do a public service announcement urging health precautions.
Hospitals in Kansas, Missouri and several other Midwestern states were
bursting in November and December with coronavirus patients, although cases have
dropped recently. The situation was so dire at one point that rural patients
were being flown hundreds of miles for treatment because closer hospitals were
full. Health officials donít want to see that scenario repeated.
"If you have 10 or 20 people you are meeting with, there is a very good
likelihood that one or two of those people will have COVID-19," said Dr. Dana
Hawkinson, director of infection control for the University of Kansas Health
System, which was inundated during the surge. "If you are in a small enclosed
space, then three or four of those people will get it."
Kile Chaney, a 42-year-old stone mason from Harrisonville, Missouri, said he
will have no trouble following that advice. He described himself as introverted
by nature and said he plans to barbecue wings and watch the game at home with
"We donít usually make too big of a deal to go out to Super Bowl parties
anyway," Chaney said, "so the COVID thing is not going to play into how we
celebrate a Chiefs victory."
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Anderson reported from St.
Petersburg, Florida. Associated Press Writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, also
contributed to this report.
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