Experts fear Super Bowl parties will be COVID-19 super-spreading events: 'This is not the moment to let your guard down'

Korin Miller
·5 min read

While football fans across the country are gearing up for the Super Bowl on Sunday, infectious disease doctors and public health experts have a warning: Attending a Super Bowl party could put your health at risk.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned people against gathering for the big game, saying “every time we do have something like this, there always is a spike.”

“Enjoy the game, watch it on television, but do it with the immediate members of your family, the people in your household,” he told the TODAY show Wednesday. “As much fun as it is to get together in a big Super Bowl party, now is not the time to do that.”

He’s not alone in asking football fans to stay home. Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a press conference last week, per the Los Angeles Times, that it would be “tragic” if the Super Bowl “becomes a superspreader of coronavirus.”

While Los Angeles County recently loosened regulations on restaurants — which are now able to open for outdoor dining only — officials have banned TVs and other broadcast screens from being used in those places, per a new health order. “Tables must be positioned at least 8 feet apart and televisions or other screens must be turned off,” a news release from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reads.

In New York City, indoor dining is forbidden until Valentine’s Day, when it will reopen at 25 percent capacity as long as COVID-19 positivity rates don’t spike, and Governor Andrew Cuomo instituted a 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants, bars and residential gatherings across the state in November that still remains in place.

In the Chiefs’ hometown of Kansas City, Mo., restaurants, taverns and other dining facilities are allowed to conduct sales until midnight, provided they follow regulations. Those include limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, indoor and outdoor parties restricted to 10 people, parties spaced at least 6 feet apart and masks required both in indoor spaces and outdoor areas where parties can’t stay 6 feet apart. Plenty of places in the city are also hosting Super Bowl events, including a 13-hour all-ages block party that promises to be “the biggest Super watch party in KC!”

People stand close to one another in line along yellow fencing outside a venue, most without face masks
Patrons gather in Ybor City, Fla., at the start of Super Bowl LV festivities during the COVID-19 pandemic on Jan. 30. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

And in Tampa Bay, where this year’s Super Bowl is being held, Visit Tampa Bay has a section on its website dedicated to COVID-19 safety precautions. “While you’re in town, check out our most popular attractions. Please note that all attractions require face coverings to enter,” the website reads. The city of Tampa Bay has also closed some streets to allow for more outdoor and patio dining at restaurants.

While these regulations seem like a good idea, in theory, infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life that more severe restrictions, such as no TVs and dining curfews, may end up inadvertently causing more COVID-19 infections. “Some of these restrictions will drive people into private gatherings,” he says. “People sitting around on a couch in someone’s house is probably not going to be safer than sitting at a table where you’re 6 feet apart from others.” In some cases, regulations “will create more danger because it gives people [fewer] options,” Adalja says.

Adalja is concerned that Super Bowl Sunday as a whole could be a super-spreading event due to people attending private parties for the big game. “It’s basically like the holidays all over again,” he says. “These are the same concerns we had for Thanksgiving and Christmas — people gathered together in small groups indoors.”

Dr. Jill Foster, a professor of infectious diseases and immunology at the University of Minnesota, tells Yahoo Life that she expects “little clusters” of new infections to show up across the country after the Super Bowl. “There’s going to be spread from this party and that party — it adds up cumulatively,” she says.

But restrictions like not allowing TVs in restaurants are unlikely to have much of an impact, Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life. “You can get together but not turn the TV on? That’s not going to stop people,” he says. “They’ll watch it on their phones or read about it on social media and still cheer.”

Watching sports on TV with others when COVID-19 precautions are followed is a potential — but unproven — issue, Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “Yelling ... can promote transmission of the coronavirus,” he says. But, he adds, tighter regulations like keeping TVs off has not been “systematically evaluated as a public health intervention, so the quantifiable effect of doing this is unknown currently.”

While the overall curve of new COVID-19 infections in the country is going down, Russo expects that there will be a “Super Bowl bump.” However, he says, it’s hard to predict how much of an increase in infections there will be. “We could see a flattening or change in the curve of the slope, or we could even see an upward turn,” he says. It’s not common for people to travel long distances for Super Bowl Sunday, which could make the fallout from the Super Bowl less than that of the holidays, Adalja says.

There’s also this to consider, per Russo: “The people who are most likely to gather for the Super Bowl have probably already been doing this — and many may have already been infected. But if you’ve been really good all along, this is not the moment to let your guard down.”

This story was originally published on Feb. 1, 2021 at 2:47 p.m. ET and has been updated to include Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comments.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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