Health authorities’ worst fears have been realised ahead of the Super Bowl, with concerns that fans will create America’s next super-spreader event.
The nation’s top health officials sounded the alarm this week about the Super Bowl being a potential super-spreader event, and they urged people to gather with friends over Zoom, not in crowds.
'WOW, YOU'RE ALIVE': Horrific details emerge after star's arrest
However it appears as though those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Residents in Tampa were seen partying without masks or social-distancing on the city’s historic Seventh Avenue on Saturday night ahead of Super Bowl LV.
Concerning photos have emerged from the strip in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, showing hundreds of people packed together, many without masks.
Tampa Bay Times photographer Luis Santana said the crowd would have reached the tens of thousands, saying it was the “wildest he’d ever seen” the neighbourhood.
This is officially the wildest I’ve ever seen Ybor. EVER. 1:40am. pic.twitter.com/7LTC9NvEfE
— Luis Santana (@LuisSantana) February 7, 2021
With the COVID-19 virus morphing into a once-in-a-century pandemic, health officials are on edge as fans congregate at parties and bars for the game.
“I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly,” said Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
“People gather, they watch games together. We’ve seen outbreaks already from football parties.
“So I really do think that we need to watch this and be careful.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, also issued a warning against holding parties to celebrate.
“Absolutely not. I mean, watch the Super Bowl on TV, enjoy it. Have a party in your house with your family with the people who are there,” he said.
“But you don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with, you just don’t know if they’re infected.
“So as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”
The Super Bowl comes as America sees a dramatic drop in new virus cases — a sign that the infection spike from holiday gatherings is easing.
The virus has killed more than 459,000 people in the US, but the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases went from 180,489 as of January 22 to 125,854 as of Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health officials on edge ahead of Super Bowl
Health officials fear the game could seed new cases at exactly the wrong time.
Just this week, the new coronavirus strain that spread quickly in the United Kingdom was confirmed in Kansas after turning up in several other states.
Other highly contagious variants also have scientists worried. States are in a race to vaccinate before the newcomers become widespread and additional strains emerge.
After a long year of shutdowns, it remains to be seen whether Americans will heed the warnings for an event that was watched by more than 100 million people last year.
The fact that it’s Tom Brady seeking his seventh Super Bowl victory for Tampa Bay against Kansas City’s star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, only adds to the intrigue surrounding the game.
The game will be played in front of about 22,000 fans in Tampa, many of them vaccinated health workers.
In Tampa, Mayor Jane Castor announced a temporary ordinance requiring that masks be worn outside in several popular gathering spots.
The order states that violators could be fined $500 as a “last resort.”
Another ordinance requires masks at any indoor location when social-distancing is not possible.
That would include many bars and restaurants but not private residences.
The city has acquired 150,000 donated masks that officials will give out to anyone who needs one in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. The slogan is “need a mask, just ask.”
with Associated Press
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.