The CDC Director Is Worried About This New COVID Threat

"I really do think that we need to watch this and be careful," she said.

As football fans watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs to take the title at Super Bowl LV, health experts were bracing themselves in fear for the possibility that the game—traditionally the biggest annual event in America—could trigger a spike in new COVID-19 cases. That includes Rochelle Walensky, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The day before the big game, she told the Associated Press, "I'm worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly. People gather, they watch games together. We've seen outbreaks already from football parties. … I really do think that we need to watch this and be careful." For more on why experts think the big game could cause a big surge, read on, and for more COVID news, find out What Dr. Fauci Says Not to Do After Your First COVID Shot.

Holidays and big events have caused most surges in the U.S.

people lining up to get into store

Most major surges in the U.S. throughout the pandemic have been the result of holiday celebrations, similar to the kind the Super Bowl brings about. The summer surge was the result of Memorial Day and July 4th weekends, the fall surge came after Labor Day, and case numbers have only recently started trending downwards following a spike caused by gatherings over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. For example, by Healthline's analysis, two weeks after Thanksgiving, the number of new cases was up by more than 20 percent, while hospitalizations went up by 21 percent and deaths rose 39 percent. And for more on what the numbers look like where you live, check out How Bad the COVID Outbreak Is in Your State.

The Super Bowl game itself is not the issue.

Close-up of 50 yard line on a football field

Careful restrictions were put in place around the main event itself, which took place at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay's home turf. The venue has a full capacity of up to 75,000, but at Sunday's Super Bowl, only 22,000 people were in attendance. These fans were were told to wear masks and many of them were healthcare workers who had already been vaccinated. And for more on the latest in the COVID-19 pandemic, find out why COVID Could Take This Scary Turn Next Month, Study Finds.

Tampa officials are worried about the after-effects of the victory.

Football Fans Gather In Tampa To Watch To Super Bowl LV Between The Tampa Bay Buccaneers And The Kansas City Chiefs
Octavio Jones/Getty Images

When the Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV, Tampa became first city to ever victoriously host theirown home team for the big game, which meant tons of celebrating. Scenes of maskless crowds post-Super Bowl have caused alarm, especially considering Florida has the highest number of cases of the new more contagious U.K. variant in the U.S. "You've got venues that are operating at 100 percent capacity, stuffing their places," Tom DeGeorge, owner of a local bar, told local ABC affiliate WFTS.

"The Tampa Police tell me that they're very disappointed by what they've seen and some of these establishments do risk being shut down," one CNN reporter said of the "massive crowd" in the area where "not many of them [were] wearing a mask." And for more regular COVID news, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Then there's the problem of fans celebrating at home, Dr. Fauci has warned.

watching football

Ahead of the big game, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, said that he feared that Super Bowl celebrations could cause "mini super spreader events."

"Everybody likes to have, I did too back then, to have a big party with a number of people coming in, friends and others from the neighborhood," he said in a Feb. 5 interview with MSNBC's Ari Melber. "If you don't know what the status of a person is, vis-à-vis whether they're infected or not, you're really putting yourself and your family in danger. … It's a perfect setup to have a mini super spreader event in your own house." And for more from Fauci, check out President Biden Just Gave This Bleak COVID Update.

John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more
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