5 things to know about Super Bowl and the coronavirus

It’s so exciting! It’s so scary! To help you avoid whiplash, here are a few reminders about dealing with the big game and the big pandemic at the same time.
Signs at Raymond James Stadium urge fans to wear a face mask for Super Bowl 55. The stadium is one place in the Tampa Bay area where fans can be assured someone will make sure they comply.
Signs at Raymond James Stadium urge fans to wear a face mask for Super Bowl 55. The stadium is one place in the Tampa Bay area where fans can be assured someone will make sure they comply. [ OCTAVIO JONES | AP ]
Published Feb. 2, 2021|Updated Feb. 2, 2021

After nearly two decades, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made it back to the Super Bowl. This time, they’ll be playing under the cannons of Raymond James Stadium — the first NFL team in history to enjoy home-field advantage for the championship game.

That’s just one of many story lines that promise to bring people together in big numbers across Tampa Bay for Super Bowl Sunday. But all this excitement at the same time the region struggles with a pandemic has given community leaders a kind of collective whiplash — trying to salvage an economic boost from the coveted event while keeping it from blooming into a super-spreader.

To help you avoid whiplash, here are five things to know about the coronavirus as kickoff approaches for the Super Bowl on Sunday.

1. You’re safest celebrating alone, but ...

... how many people are willing to do that? So health officials have issued some words of advice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flat-out recommends against traveling during this time. Notwithstanding a reported Super Bowl bump at the airport and local hotels, “Travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19 due to potential exposures on public transit, at airports, or in hotels.”

As for going anywhere in public, more people around you on Super Bowl Sunday means more potential spreaders. You might feel safer if you check first whether your chosen watering hole follows guiding principles from the CDC for restaurant and bar operators: reduced capacity, tables six feet apart, masks on employees and on customers — when they’re not sipping a beer or gnawing a wing — and signs prominently reinforcing these principles. If the crowd is spilling out the door when you arrive, consider turning on your heel.

A home party is how most people will take in the Super Bowl. How to proceed safely? The CDC has updated its advice on “Small gatherings.” And here’s a quick summary from public health expert Jay Wolfson of the University of South Florida:

“Keep the numbers low, the venue out of doors as much as possible, avoid having people serve themselves, make sure there is plenty of ventilation, keep your restrooms clean and stocked with paper towels and sanitizers, and put in the discipline this year so that your family and friends can better enjoy next year and beyond without the residue of COVID.”

If you’re among the lucky few watching the game at a reduced-capacity Raymond James Stadium, you’ll be entering the one place where fans are guaranteed that someone is making sure they comply with mask requirements.

2. Be careful confronting the bare-faced

Maybe you decide to venture out, wearing a mask, social distancing, following all the advice and orders you can find on staying safe in public, but you bump into someone who isn’t. Or maybe you’re at a house party and the person standing next to you, holding a tortilla chip dipped in guacamole and loudly arguing Tom Brady’s best Super Bowl performance, is maskless.

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Be careful how you proceed; they might be a little tipsy and extra aggressive. Remember, in July a screaming woman refused to leave a Pinellas restaurant after being told she had to wear a mask and view the menu online. The police were called.

There is a polite way to speak up. Tampa Bay etiquette coach Patricia Rossi suggests focusing on relationships. Maybe something like, “Ohhhhh! Be careful, your mask is slipping, I don’t want you to get sick.” Or, “I’m so glad you were able to come. I’m making sure everyone wears a mask to keep us safe and comfortable.”

3. Authorities hope you’ll behave

The Gasparilla Festival of Pirates was postponed, but the other half of a predicted back-to-back mega-crowd generator remains in place with the Super Bowl staying on schedule. If you get mad when you see any large group form in this time of coronavirus, get ready for your blood pressure to rise.

How far will authorities go to bust up crowds, enforce a temporary Tampa mask ordinance and drain out over-capacity bars and restaurants?

They’re emphasizing education and personal responsibility. Still, you risk a $450 fine if you’re cited under the mask order in effect for the most popular Tampa destinations through Feb. 13. Police and code enforcement officials say they’ll be out in force to make sure businesses and revelers follow mask requirements both indoors and out. In December, Tampa said it also would start enforcing a ban on dance floor crowds.

Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan wouldn’t answer directly when pressed on what crowd enforcement efforts will look like or when citations might be issued. “It’s hard to say,” Dugan said. “Maybe if there was a large crowd of people and somebody just flat out refused. We’re just going to hope for the best and hope people comply.”

4. The virus can hang 20 minutes in the air

We may have an idea of the science behind the relentless spread of the coronavirus, but do we really think about it much? A better question: If not now, when?

When an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, sings, or yells, “Go Bucs!” at a Super Bowl party, tiny aerosol droplets carry the virus into the air from the nose or mouth. The droplets can hang in the air from 10 minutes to 20 minutes or longer, depending on ventilation, said Wolfson from USF. If you’re inside, packed tightly together in a crowd, it could live up to three hours.

In the right temperature and conditions, the droplet-borne nuclei of the coronavirus can live even longer — two to three days — if they land on a smooth, non-porous surface, like a highly polished wood bar or your neighbor’s granite countertop.

5. Expect a Super Bowl spike, but not for long

Tampa will likely see a fourth spike in virus transmissions during the days leading up to the Super Bowl, from Feb. 5 to Feb. 8, said Dr. Edwin Michael, a University of South Florida epidemiologist. The reporting of such data lags, so look for the news later. Michael’s team also expects a 25 percent plunge in social distancing during the period.

Still, ongoing mitigation efforts should make it a much smaller, shorter surge than the earlier ones, based on USF models for tracking and predicting the spread of the coronavirus.

“The great news is that, from this simulation, we know that the third wave has occurred already during the first week of January,” Michael said. “We are now in a declining phase, although I will say I am cautiously optimistic, because things can change rapidly.”

Michael said the region’s increased vaccination efforts and social distancing measures have likely made it possible for Tampa to prevent the Super Bowl from becoming a “super spreader.”

Information from staff writers Sharon Wynne, Charlie Frago, Tony Marrero and Natalie Weber was used in this report.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage

TIMELINE: How the Bucs and Tampa converged for Super Bowl 55

ATTENTION SUPER BOWL VISITORS: Here’s our guide to Tampa Bay’s socially distanced attractions

PARTY PLANNING IN A PANDEMIC: How to host a safe Super Bowl party

FANS IN TAMPA: A first look inside the Super Bowl Experience in Tampa

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