Jan. 25, 2021 -- The NFL is inviting 7,500 vaccinated health care workers to the Super Bowl to say thanks for their service during the coronavirus pandemic.
"These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement posted on NFL.com.
"We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings."
The Super Bowl will be played Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, and most of the invited health care workers will come from the Tampa area, though all 32 NFL teams will select “a handful” of health care workers from their areas for an all-expenses-paid trip to Tampa, the NFL said.
All the invited health care workers will have received both COVID vaccine doses. About 14,500 other fans will attend the game, the NFL said. The stadium can seat 65,000 fans and expand seating to accommodate 75,000.
The NFL said the CDC, Florida health officials, and area hospitals reviewed plans to have fans in the stadium and offered feedback.
Safety features include mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing, podded seating, touchless transactions at concessions, restrooms, and security checkpoints, and controlled entry and exit.
The NFL limited seating at games this season, with 1.2 million fans attending 116 regular season and playoff games, CBS News reported. Several games were postponed because of coronavirus outbreaks on the teams.
Crowds ranged between 3,500 and 16,000 at four NFL playoff games last weekend, NBC Sports reported.
About 3,500 people attended the Buccaneers-Saints game in New Orleans, with 500 of them being vaccinated health care workers who got in free.
About 6,000 fans watched the Packers beat the Rams in Green Bay, WI; 6,700 watched the Bills beat the Ravens in Buffalo, NY; and 16,000 watched the Chiefs beat the Browns in Kansas City.
NBC Sports said the Bills played home games in an empty stadium all season but for last Saturday’s game the State of New York allowed a limited number of fans, all of whom had tested negative.
Florida has been a COVID hotspot throughout the pandemic. The state has recorded 1.6 million confirmed cases -- third most in the nation, behind California and Texas -- and more than 24,000 deaths.
Hillsborough County, where Tampa is, has recorded more than 94,800 cases and 1,215 deaths, according to the state’s COVID dashboard.