Super Bowl Crowd Presents an Experiment in Covid Immunity

The National Football League is hoping to avoid any large-scale Covid-19 outbreaks at the Super Bowl, and immunity appears to be a major part of the game plan. A sharp drop in new infections also is on the league’s side.

The NFL capped overall attendance at 25,000, a record low for football’s biggest event, which this year features the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida.

While the league has given tickets to 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers for the championship game, it hasn’t released health information about the remainder of the attendees. But statistical models can help gauge the risk.

Among attendees who got tickets on their own, 8.5% have likely benefited from at least one of the required two doses of a vaccine, and about 27% would likely have previously been infected, based on Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker data and U.S. cumulative infection estimates from independent modeler Youyang Gu.

Super Bowl Crowd Presents an Experiment in Covid Immunity

Attitudes about the wisdom of the event probably would have been different if it were being held a month ago, but the seven-day average of new cases has plummeted 46% from the Jan. 11 high. It’s now running at about 135,159 a day, according to Covid Tracking Project data.

The U.S. also has made progress on its vaccine push, reaching 1.3 million doses per day and 35 million doses overall, according to Bloomberg’s tracker. About 2.1% of the population has had the required two shots; others are getting partial benefits.

“Any time you have a big event like this, it’s a risk,” said Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida epidemiologist and die-hard Buccaneers fan who will be watching at home. “But if I had my choice, I’d rather be at the Super Bowl than at a big house party where people aren’t appropriately social distancing.”

Bowling Alone

The government has gone on the offensive to warn about the dangers, seeking to prevent America’s most popular sporting event from fueling another wave of Covid-19 infections. On Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged people to tone it down.

“Every time we do have something like this, there’s always a spike,” Fauci said on NBC’s Today show. “Enjoy the game, watch it on television. But do it with immediate members of your family or people in your household. As much fun it is to get together in a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that.”

Florida knows the risk of large sports events. The state also hosted last year’s Super Bowl in Miami Gardens, and Governor Ron DeSantis later floated the idea that the virus may have already been circulating at the Feb. 2, 2020 game.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she weighed the economic benefits of hosting the game against the risk.

“We have taken the appropriate steps to ensure the health and well being of all the fans,” Castor said in an interview Thursday. “And we’re also focusing on our businesses -- that they are able to see some economic lift.”

Polite Applause

Still, using a pessimistic set of assumptions, if 1 in 50 attendees shows up with the virus and each infects two people, that’s 470 new infections -- enough for a few to die.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued official Super Bowl watching guidelines: avoid packed bathrooms and concession stands and wear face coverings, whether at the stadium or a watch party. To lower the risk of spreading the virus, the scientists also urged people not to chant or cheer. “Stomp, clap, or bring hand-held noisemakers instead,” the CDC guidelines say.

According to Covid Tracking Project data:

  • The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 fell to 91,440 on Wednesday, the lowest since Nov. 28.
  • Arizona continues to lead the nation in people hospitalized with the virus per capita.
  • Florida is roughly in line with the national average for stress on its medical institutions, with 279 people hospitalized per million.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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