Feb. 5, 2021 -- Though Super Bowl Sunday is not a national holiday, it is often treated as one -- a daylong celebration full of friends, family, and food. But this year will be different. At least, that’s what doctors are hoping.

Medical professionals are pleading with the public to stay physically distanced and keep gatherings virtual this Sunday. Otherwise, there could be renewed spikes in COVID-19 cases -- a particularly alarming prospect given the new strains that have cropped up.

“We’re worried because there are new variants of COVID, so there’s even less room for error,” says Preeti Malani, MD, chief health officer and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan. “We don’t want Super Bowl Sunday to become ‘Superspreader Sunday.’”

There are three specific variants that have caused concern so far -- originating in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil -- all of which have been detected in the United States. They seem to be more contagious than the original strain, and it is unclear how well the available vaccines protect against them.

“This Sunday, remember whichever team you're rooting for and whichever commercial is your favorite, please watch the Super Bowl safely, gathering only virtually or with the people you live with,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, said Wednesday at a White House COVID-19 Response Team news conference.

Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House COVID-19 Response Team's chief medical adviser, has issued warnings similar to ones he offered during the holiday season. In an interview with NBC’s Today show Wednesday, he said "there always is a spike" of new infections following traditionally social times.

“Enjoy the game, watch it on television, but do it with the immediate members of your family, the people in your household," he said.

Thankfully, surveys show that many people may heed those warnings. The National Retail Federation reports that just 28% off people say they will be throwing or attending a party or watching the game at a bar -- the lowest in the survey’s history. In 2018, survey results showed 18% said they would host a Super Bowl party, and 28% said they’d attend one. Five percent said they would go to a bar or restaurant.

A Seton Hall University poll yielded similar findings: 64% of those polled said they would not be gathering with people who live outside their home.

Doctors are recommending people gather by video to watch the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The CDC issued new guidance on how to celebrate this Sunday’s event, which includes:

  • Wear clothing or decorate your home with your favorite team’s logo or colors.
  • Make appetizers or snacks with the people you live with to enjoy while watching the game, and share the recipes with your friends and family.
  • Start a text group with other fans to chat about the game while watching.
  • Attend an outdoor viewing party where viewers can sit 6 feet apart.
  • Use a projector screen to broadcast the game.
  • Sit at least 6 feet away from people you don’t live with.

If an in-person gathering is in the cards, make it as safe as possible with masks, distance, and, ideally, in an outdoor setting.

“If you do want to gather, you can choose not to eat together and keep your masks on. You can be together and have a little distance,” Malani says. “Or bring the TV outside and watch it in the garage.”

But, she says, “the safest thing would be to not watch as a group.”

And though vaccines are being distributed, people should not use that as a reason to be laxer in safety practices, says Anita Gupta, DO, an adjunct assistant professor of anesthesiology, critical care medicine, and pain medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Only a small percentage of people are vaccinated, and it is still unclear whether that prevents transmission.

It is just as important now as it was at the start of the pandemic to wash your hands, wear masks, and socially distance, she says.

“If every major holiday or event is causing a new spike, we’re never going to get this under control,” Gupta says. “It is prudent for everyone to continue to take it seriously and stay home.”

Show Sources

Preeti Malani, MD, chief health officer and professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Michigan.

Anita Gupta, DO, adjunct assistant professor of anesthesiology, critical care medicine, and pain medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

CDC.gov: “New Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19,” “Small Gatherings.”

The Hill: “Fauci warns against attending Super Bowl parties.”

National Retail Federation: “2021 Super Bowl: Over 185 million estimated viewers,” “Big year for the Big Game: Consumers to spend $15.3 billion on 2018 Super Bowl.”

Seton Hall University: “Seton Hall Sports Poll: As Online Gambling Options Increase, Number of Those Who Say They Will Not Bet on Super Bowl Dramatically Decreases.”

Today: “Dr. Fauci warns against Super Bowl gatherings: 'Now is not the time.’”

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