The Super Bowl May Cause An Uptick In COVID-19 Cases — Here’s How To Watch Safely

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When I realized the Super Bowl was this weekend, my first thought was: Oh dear God, I can’t believe I used to eat onion dip from the same bowl as all my friends. I posed this horrorshow of a thought to my coworkers, and one of them responded, “Sharing dips during a pandemic should be illegal.” 
Double-dipping all up in the guacamole isn’t the only Super Bowl Sunday activity that’s not COVID-19-friendly. Congregating with people outside your COVID bubble and potentially screaming, drinking, snacking, chanting, and hugging (if things go well for your team) are all risky right now, especially when done indoors. 
And yet, more than 185 million U.S. adults are expected to tune into the game, and 28% of them plan to attend or host a watch party or hit up a sports bar, a survey from the National Retail Federation found. Although another poll found that almost two-thirds of its 1,522 participants were planning to stay away from watch parties, doctors across the country are still worried that the playoff between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will cause a spike in cases like we’ve seen after major holidays such as Christmas, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving
Despite the new coronavirus variants offering a compelling reason to cheer on your team from home, Beth Thielen, MD, PhD, an infectious disease physician with the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health Fairview, is concerned that COVID-fatigued people won't be able to resist the allure of the Super Bowl. Add in alcohol lowering sports fans' inhibitions (and masks), and you've got a recipe for trouble. 
There’s precedent for a post-Super Bowl spike in disease, notes Ginny Boos, PhD, RN, director of infection prevention at Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, MO. “When the Chiefs won the AFC Championship a year ago, there were parties and all of this excitement — and the influenza cases spiked up,” Dr. Boos, a Chiefs fan, says. A couple weeks later, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and she saw an even higher spike in flu cases the following week.
With the vaccine rollout underway, there’s a good chance we’ll be able to enjoy a more normal Super Bowl experience next year. Until then, “we need to continue to be vigilant and take precautions such as masking, social distancing, and not getting together in large groups,” says Dana Hawkinson, MD, an infectious disease physician at the University of Kansas Health System. We asked Dr. Hawkinson and other medical experts (and football fans) how to celebrate safely this year. Here are their best tips for having the most fun — with the least possible risk.

Virtual Super Bowl parties

Experts agree that if you want to watch with people you don’t already live with, you should stick to a platform like Zoom, Houseparty or Evite, which has a watch party function. I know — we're all a little sick of virtual get-togethers. But actually, Super Bowl activities are weirdly well-suited to a virtual format. Here's how to keep things exciting.

Focus on the food

The snacks are many people's favorite part of the Super Bowl, so make them the center of your virtual party. Plan to order in or cook up the same meals and snacks before the game. Share your favorite salsa or dip recipes. Or play Secret Snack, a twist on Secret Santa: Each party-goer anonymously orders delivery for someone else, and you have to guess who had whom.

Show your spirit

Dress up in support of your team of choice and have a costume contest. Or do a Zoom background contest instead. (My pick: a screenshot of Tom Brady eating his very first strawberry.)

Raise the stakes

While we’re talking contests, battle it out and have a timed chicken-wing-eating tourney. Just don’t waste too many precious wipes. Or have people fill out a prop bet sheets ahead of kickoff, answering questions like: "Will Bella Hadid be shown during the halftime show?" and "Who will win the opening coin toss?"

Play a drinking game

Recreate the signature cocktail Tom Brady’s Tears, created by Thin Man Brewery in Buffalo, then take a sip every time Brady looks upset, Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes makes an incredible throw, or a sportscaster brings up the New England Patriots. (And yes, my sportiest friend helped me come up with these ideas.) If drinking isn't your thing, use a Bingo card template to make a game in advance, and fill in the spaces with prompts similar to the ones we mentioned for the drinking game. I'm highly anticipating Amy Schumer's mayonnaise commercial, so that'll definitely make it on my homemade cards. Pool some cash to spend on a gift card for the winner.

Outdoor Super Bowl parties

“Events outside are safer than indoors,” Dr. Thielen says. If you live somewhere warm and you’re planning to have people outside of your family over, however, don't be lulled into a false sense of security: Outdoor get-togethers still carry a risk, especially if you'll be around people for an extended period of time. Here's how to stay safe while gathering outdoors.

Stay in the car

See if people are doing “drive in” viewings of the Super Bowl in your area, like they did at Dodger Stadium during the World Series. You can try to recreate this effect at home using a projector, a loudspeaker, and a sheet or an inflatable movie screen. Set up the "screen" on your garage door, and have people park in your driveway or lawn to watch the game from their cars. If it's too cold to roll down the windows for the speakers, listen to the game on a phone or on the radio. Encourage everyone to honk during good or bad plays. You'll still have to leave some distance and be careful about shouting at each other through open car windows, but being near enough to see (and hear) each other can lend a community feel to the day.

Go BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks)

When it comes to COVID, "sharing utensils and congregating around food service areas may present risks," reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Although a main way COVID spreads is through respiratory droplets, not food... we would certainly encourage people not to share dips and spoons, and everyone having their own utensils," Dr. Hawkinson says. If you do serve food, have people come up to get it one at a time. And honestly, the safest bet is to ditch the buffet and have people come with their own meals. I, for one, will be keeping my spinach artichoke all to myself.

Be strategic with sanitizer

If you'll be out of your cars around others, stay socially distanced and keep your face mask on. Also make sure to have plenty of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer on hand, including by the bathrooms and any seating. This will keep hygiene a top priority.

Indoor watch parties

The experts we spoke to all cautioned against meetups in person with folks outside of your COVID-19 bubble. Even if you stick to your pod, there are some safety precautions you should keep in mind.

Invite VIPs only

If you're watching the Super Bowl indoors with friends or family, only invite people who are already in your bubble and who you trust are seeing no one else. Even then, assume nothing: Ask guests about their potential exposures before they come over. “You need to have true understanding and transparency about the risk and exposures the people you’ve invited have had,” Dr. Boos says. “Are they going out on a regular basis to bars and parties?”

Stay socially distanced

Stick to the same precautions you've been using in public spaces: Wear masks. Use sanitizer or wash your hands often. Sit at least six feet apart from each other, and if it's a small space, consider spreading out into more than one room. Follow the same food rules as you would outdoors. And, of course, if you're sick, stay home, and if you're hosting, make clear that you'll be turning away anyone who looks or sounds under the weather.

Know how you'll celebrate

This one feels a little silly, but it's practical: Plan a way to celebrate, if your team wins, that doesn't involve hugging, high-fiving, or cheering. Emotions run high on Super Bowl Sunday, so it pays to have a plan in place. Suggest that your friends go outside immediately after the game to either light off sparklers and air hug in celebration or scream into the ether and commiserate (from a distance).

Plan a post-game quarantine

“We’re not only concerned about the spread that could occur at Super Bowl events, but the possibility of exponential spread,” says Dr. Hawkinson. “Two or three people might be infected at a party, and they might then go out and infect two or three more. You see where I’m going with this? It might become an enlarging bubble of infection.” After game day, quarantine for at least three to four days, says Dr. Boos. (Consider avoiding crowded areas or high-risk people for a full two weeks.) Also stay in touch with the people who you saw, Dr. Hawkinson adds. If anyone gets sick, go into an official two-week lockdown, and contact a doc to ask about getting tested.
Regardless of who wins the game this weekend, being reckless about how we watch it could cost us our — or our loved ones' — lives. The best course of action is to enjoy the game at home, while texting or FaceTiming your sport- and commercial-loving friends. And save the communal dips for next year.

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