Rutgers Expert Cautions Public to Stay Home for Super Bowl to Reduce COVID-19 Spread

As millions of Americans prepare to watch the Super Bowl amid the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts worry the big game can become a “super spreader” event.

Professor Lewis Nelson, chair of emergency medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, who has treated many COVID-19 patients, cautions the public that it would be best not to attend sizeable Super Bowl parties or events to help keep COVID-19 infections rates low.

Why is it important for people to stay at home for the Super Bowl this year? 

A Super Bowl party creates a situation that carries many of the high-risk characteristics for disease transmission, which is why I recommend people have virtual watch parties with only immediate family or close contacts instead. Gathering in a closed space, coming in close contact with other people with insufficient or no face coverings and potentially chanting or yelling can lead to the virus’s spread. Loud vocalizations created when raising your voice can produce abundant aerosolized particles that raise the risk of interpersonal transmission.

What recommendations do you have for people who still want to gather as safely as possible?

I strongly recommend against doing that, but if people feel it’s worthwhile to take that risk, I suggest they wear a mask, keep their distance from other people, wash their hands, and keep their shouting to a minimum. The more people that gather, the greater the risk that one of them can transmit coronavirus.

If you find yourself in a closed space with poor ventilation, you must cover your face to mitigate virus spread. More prolonged exposure and shorter distances significantly raise the risk of catching coronavirus from another person. Gathering around people outside your household for long periods, with aerosolized particles’ movement created when speaking, can be dangerous. It is vital to keep your distance and at least six feet is recommended.

If you’re eating and drinking, I suggest removing your mask and quickly replacing it, if done in an appropriate setting, while still distanced from others. This will reduce the risk of spread although not entirely. Taking off a mask for an extended period, like for an entire meal, especially near others, significantly raises the risk of COVID-19 exposure if others are contagious. Importantly, the source does not have to be sick to be contagious.

Even when COVID-19 testing is performed before social gatherings, it is generally inadequate to truly rule out transmissibility, which is why mask wearing is crucial.

Should people share food and drinks with others? 

The transmission risk in shared food isn’t clear, but the proximity to others sharing the food is a known risk. I must also caution that people drink alcohol in moderation as it impairs decision-making and could lead to letting your guard down in mask-wearing and social distancing.

When people gather, the most significant risks occur during singing, cheering, and screaming as vocal cords vibrate significantly more than normal and are the source for aerosolized viruses. The more particles one generates, the greater the risk to bystanders.