Despite warnings that Super Bowl 55 celebrations in Tampa, Florida, would lead to a massive spike in new COVID-19 cases, Hillsborough County health officials determined that the celebrations resulted in just a few dozen cases.
The news comes after media outlets spent the days after the Super Bowl, in which Tampa Bay defeated Kansas City, insisting that Super Bowl parties were “super spreader” events.
CBS News warned at the time that the NFL was taking precautions to avoid a massive spread of the coronavirus, though it quoted NFL executive Peter O’Reilly and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor expressing confidence. O’Reilly told the outlet that there’s “been no cluster spread coming out of any of those games” that had fans in the stadiums earlier in the season. The outlet also quoted Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, warning people not to have large indoor gatherings.
The Associated Press reported that health officials were “pleading,” with people not to throw parties.
“I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly. People gather, they watch games together. We’ve seen outbreaks already from football parties,” said Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So, I really do think that we need to watch this and be careful.”
The New York Times, ABC, NBC, and others published similar articles.
But an investigation into the concerns revealed they were unwarranted. USA Today reported that health officials found just 57 total COVID-19 cases resulting from official events celebrating Super Bowl 55.
“In a press conference that was streamed on WFLA, a local NBC affiliate, Hillsborough County chief epidemiologist Michael Wiese said there were 53 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state of Florida linked to the Super Bowl, while four out-of-state cases were tracked to the event,” the outlet reported. “Wiese did say, however, that the county saw an increase in the positivity rate in the weeks following the game.”
“This information, along with the low numbers that were reported, really leads to the conclusion that transmission that was occurring after the Super Bowl was the family get-togethers, the house-hold parties, the bars and restaurants that had unofficial gatherings and events associated with the Super Bowl,” Wiese said at the press conference. “While we didn’t really have a lot that was associated directly with the Super Bowl, we do know that the community kind of celebrated and got together in response to the events, which did show some increase in the transmission during the weeks afterward.”
Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, said part of the reason the “Super Bowl was not a super-spreader” was because many events that would have been held indoors were turned into outdoor events where masks were worn and social distancing was enforced.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that more cases may have been linked to unofficial events, however. The evidence for this comes from a slight increase in Hillsborough County’s positivity rate in the weeks after the Super Bowl, yet the increase is far from indicative of some kind of massive spread.