Super Bowl Is Super Safe According To Some Officials; Others Worry About A “Super-Spreader Bowl”

Every fan attending Sunday’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium will be given a KN95 mask and, according to L.A. County Public Health and SoFi Stadium officials, they’re expected to wear it. But will they? That remains to be seen.

In a meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week Janice Hahn, whose district lies adjacent to Inglewood, worried about the recent masklessness at stadiums vis à vis the Super Bowl.

“I hope it’s not a Super-Spreader Bowl,” she said, “because that would impact all the sacrifices that people have made.”

Two weeks ago, the vast majority of fans attending the NFC championship game at SoFi between the Rams and San Francisco 49ers were seen on camera ignoring the mandate. In fact, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti took heat for being photographed without masks, even as they promoted them publicly.

Ditto recent Lakers games at Crypto.com Arena, where masklessness now looks to be the norm. It is up to venues to enforce the rule under threat of eventual fines.

Still, there has been no rise in cases or the infection rate since the NFC Championship at SoFi. In fact, they continue to drop.

But the Super Bowl will surely have more people sitting together for longer and a vastly larger associated workforce. What’s more, it’s not just the game and the halftime show that will attract crowds. There are dozens of game-adjacent marketing events and parties in the days before kickoff. There’s also the Taste of the NFL culinary gathering at the Petersen Automotive Museum, the NFL Honors awards show and the Night of Pride (both of which took place last night at SoFi) as well as the three-night Super Bowl Music Fest which is packing Crypto.com Arena. And that’s not to mention smaller local gatherings in bars and homes.

All told, the events will likely double the number of cheering Angelenos in close proximity to each other when compared to the NFC Championship.

Lax adherence to — and enforcement of — the mask mandate led another county supervisor, Kathryn Barger, to officially request that the mask rule be rescinded. Predicting that there would be little compliance at Sunday’s big game Barger wrote, “We shouldn’t continue to have mandates in place that aren’t followed or enforced.”

But L.A.’s mask rule will remain in effect for the Super Bowl, and stadium officials insist that they will enforce it. The rule requires masks at all times, except when “actively” eating or drinking.

“That doesn’t mean you buy a bucket of popcorn and eat it for two hours. Actively eating and drinking,” Russ Simons, senior vice president for campus and facility operations for SoFi Stadium, said earlier. “We’re on to you.”

Ironically, given the falling numbers, L.A.’s mask mandate at outdoor mega-events will likely be lifted next Wednesday, as the region yesterday fell under the benchmark of 2,500 Covid-related hospitalizations. It must maintain that status for 7 days before attendees at outdoor events can de-mask. That count was about 2,300 today.

All Super Bowl attendees will also have to show proof of Covid vaccination or a recent negative test to enter the venue.

John Barker, head of live event operations and production for the NFL, said the league has been preparing for mid-pandemic Super Bowls for nearly two years, and it is “extremely confident in the plans we have in place.”

Many of the measures have been in effect at SoFi Stadium throughout the season, including:

-Electrostatic spraying to disinfect horizontal surfaces and common touch points

–UVC lighting to sanitize the field

-Touchless hand sanitizer stations, as well as touchless soap, water and towel dispensers in the restrooms

Of course, none of that will prevent airborne virus transmission in a stadium full of 70,000 screaming fans stacked shoulder-to-shoulder.

The pandemic has been a constant point of inquiry leading up to the game. Some critics have questioned the propriety of holding such a major event in a county still in the throes of a pandemic, including callers at this week’s L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting. Then there was supervisor Hahn herself.

“I sure hope this Super Bowl does not in any way slow us down,” she said of the progress the region is seeing with its Covid rates.

Others have scoffed at the need for the mask mandate, citing falling case numbers, the fact that SoFi is an outdoor arena and the state’s plan to lift its indoor mask-wearing requirement next week.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer continued to preach precaution, telling reporters Thursday that the game can be held safely if people adhere to protective measures — most notably masks.

“We do ask that everyone take care to minimize risk during the pandemic,” Ferrer said. “Whether attending the game at SoFi Stadium, a pre-game event or gathering at someone’s home, many of us will be spending several hours eating, drinking, cheering and shouting with people from very different households.

“Because these are all conditions that can make it easy to spread Covid-19, we’re asking fans to follow some common-sense recommendations that can reduce the chance that they expose themselves or others to COVID-19,” she said. “It still makes sense to get vaccinated or boosted before the game. Consider getting a rapid Covid-19 test as close to the start of the game as possible as an added precaution, especially if you’re gathering indoors or with people who are unvaccinated or at higher risk of severe illness.”

For people hosting Super Bowl parties at home, Ferrer again stressed that outdoor gatherings are safer than indoors. She said if an outdoor gathering isn’t feasible, indoor watch parties should be held to a minimal number of people, preferably people who are vaccinated. If not, attendees should do their best to maintain their distance from others.

Party hosts were also advised to ensure indoor gatherings are well-ventilated — with open windows and doors. Food preparation should also be done carefully, and party hosts should consider giving individual food servings to guests, cautioned Ferrer.

For people planning to watch the game at a bar or restaurant, “please be safe and follow the venue’s masking requirements,” Ferrer said. “And in some places in L.A. County there are vaccination verification requirements as well.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

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