How to celebrate the Super Bowl safely

COVID-19 transmission rates remain high, but masks, vaccination and physical distancing continue to reduce risk.

With the big game in L.A.’s backyard and the hometown team taking the field, Super Bowl festivities are sure to fill the city.

From sports bars to family living rooms to SoFi Stadium, fans of the Los Angeles Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, halftime shows and game-day grub are ready to gather and celebrate, despite the continued spread of the ultra-infectious COVID-19 omicron variant.

There are many ways to protect ourselves from this uninvited guest, says Robert Kim-Farley, MD, MPH, a professor of epidemiology and community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Dr. Kim-Farley describes a “risk continuum” when it comes to COVID-19 and public gatherings. On the low-risk side are outdoor events where everyone is vaccinated and boosted and able to physically distance. At the other end of the spectrum are crowded indoor events with poor ventilation, no vaccination or test requirements and lax mask use.

“Ideally, people should try to be cognizant of the high rate of transmission in the community,” Dr. Kim-Farley says. “They should be aware that they can protect themselves through vaccination and be aware that they should be wearing a mask indoors.”

Those masks should be medical grade, not cloth, he adds.

Going to the game at SoFi

Dr. Robert Kim-Farley

Fans who plan to attend the game at SoFi Stadium will find a number of practices in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. Everyone age 5 and older will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test – taken within one or two days, depending on the type of test – to enter the facility and everyone age 2 and older must wear masks inside, except while eating or drinking.

Fans are also expected to abide by the NFL’s “Fan Health Promise,” pledging not to attend the game if they aren’t feeling well, have any COVID-19 symptoms in the 48 hours before the game and if they’ve tested positive for the virus in the two weeks leading up to game day.

“All of these things they’ve put in place are to minimize the risk of actually attending the event itself,” Dr. Kim-Farley says.

Celebrating offsite with friends and family

Most Angelenos won’t be at SoFi Stadium, of course, and are more likely to spend the day with friends and family at sports bars or house parties. Outdoor and uncrowded is always better than indoor and crowded when considering game-day venues, Dr. Kim-Farley says.

In the city of Los Angeles, restaurants and bars require patrons to show proof of vaccination before entry. While omicron can infect vaccinated people, the risk is lower when everyone is vaccinated and wearing masks, Dr. Kim-Farley says.

Celebrating at a sports bar could get dicey, though, as people imbibe and perhaps become less diligent about wearing masks and keeping their distance as the game goes on.

“People are going to be excited,” Dr. Kim-Farley says. “And they may have been drinking, where their judgement is slightly impaired and they’re thinking, ‘Do I really need this mask or not?’ Yes, you do.”

Gathering with friends and family at someone’s home allows for greater oversight regarding guests’ vaccination status and potential vulnerabilities to the virus.

“If there are people who are immune compromised in the household, or who are elderly and frail, that probably would not be the best place to hold a Super Bowl party,” Dr. Kim-Farley says.

Besides inquiring about vaccination status, party hosts might also consider asking guests to take rapid antigen COVID-19 tests before coming over, Dr. Kim-Farley suggests. These tests are available over-the-counter at drugstores and online, though they have been hard to come by during the omicron surge.

“It’s not a requirement for an individual home party,” he says. “But given the fact that we have high levels of circulation of omicron virus in the community, and recognizing that sometimes a person can be totally asymptomatic and yet be capable of transmitting COVID, some have chosen to say, ‘Let’s all take an antigen test before coming to the party.’”

Other ways to minimize risk at a private party include wearing masks indoors and keeping the food outside.

Everyone has different personal levels of risk tolerance, Dr. Kim-Farley adds. Being vaccinated, boosted if eligible, and wearing a high-quality mask are the best ways to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

It’s a much safer situation than last year’s big game, for example, when vaccine rollout was just beginning and there was a shortage of medical-grade masks, he says

“In a sense, the risks are controllable and we are able to reduce and minimize risks of catching the virus,” Dr. Kim-Farley says, “so we can all have an exciting, healthy and happy Super Bowl.”

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