The Super Bowl superspreader that wasn’t
March 8, 2021
It’s been more than a month since the predicted “superspreader event” that was supposed to be associated with the NFL Super Bowl and related gatherings, yet where are the reports of a COVID-19 boom—or bust?
Told-ya-so reports that one would expect of a post-Super Bowl COVID-19 surge two to three weeks later are nonexistent — because it didn’t happen. Also nearly nonexistent are reports about the non-spike.
While many national news outlets sought to warn the country about the risk of in-person parties for watching the championship football game, it seems only local news (and Fox News) has reported that the spike never manifested.
The headlines ahead of the Super Bowl were ominous:
- Expect a coronavirus spike from Tampa’s Super Bowl events, experts say
- Superspreader Sunday? Experts worry Super Bowl parties could trigger coronavirus explosion
- California’s next COVID-19 peril: Super Bowl as superspreader event. Can we learn from past?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said at the time, “Every time we do have something like this, there always is a spike, be it a holiday, Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving. … Enjoy the game, watch it on television, but do it with the immediate members of your family, the people in your household. As much fun as it is to get together in a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that.”
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won, unmasked revelers who took to the streets were condemned. Tampa quarterback Tom Brady and teammates were similarly criticized for going without masks in post-game events.
Just last week, the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County released a report that associated 53 COVID cases in the state with the Super Bowl or Super Bowl-related activities. The health department began enhanced data surveillance from January 22–February 24. In this timeframe, 260,648 COVID-19 cases were reported in Florida — 0.02% of these had an association with Super Bowl-related activities. Fifty-three of these cases were in state and four out of state. The report noted “minimal secondary/household transmission confirmed from these cases.” The report authors wrote that most transmission associated with this event was likely at gatherings in homes, restaurants and bars.
Graph from the Florida health department, which conducted enhanced surveillance during the timeframe of the Super Bowl to track any related COVID-19 cases. Source: Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.
The authors of the report wrote that they believe the “true number of COVID cases related to this community-wide event is likely much higher.” They cite loss of follow-up, a hesitancy to disclose social histories, and logistical challenges, as among the reasons limitations to the data and why they think COVID case numbers related to the Super Bowl could be higher.