TOPEKA — Infectious disease physician Dana Hawkinson exchanged the white laboratory coat for a red Kansas City Chiefs T-shirt and pair of glitzy necklaces for the pre-Super Bowl briefing on how fans ought to maintain a defensive mindset while COVID-19 still on the offensive.
Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, said the best strategy was to avoid huddling with large numbers of people Sunday during the Super Bowl LV contest between the Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa. The Chiefs hope to close out a season made strange by the pandemic with a second consecutive victory in the NFL’s defining game.
He said breaking free of the nucleus of family to attend watch parties at a bar or restaurant or in someone else’s house carried obvious risks. A gathering of 20 might include a couple of people with COVID-19 who could spread it to several others in a confined space, he said.
“We are definitely encouraging people: Do not get together and hold those Super Bowl parties. Don’t mix your bubbles,” Hawkinson said.
Lee Norman, a physician and secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said it was natural for people to want to let their hair down in conjunction with a major sporting event. He also rejected the idea of a special-exemption from public health protocol for Super Bowl celebrations at a time when pace of vaccinations was on the rise and some pandemic trends were moving in the right direction.
“We don’t want this to be a superspreader weekend,” Norman said. “The request that they continue to show good anti-contagion measures, like we have been doing all along, still remains.”
On Friday, KDHE said fatalities statewide associated with COVID-19 surpassed 4,000. The total stood at 4,101, an increase of more than 200 from Wednesday’s summary. Kansas has recorded 281,500 positive tests for the virus, with the Kansas City metropolitan counties of Wyandotte and Johnson accounting for 70,000 of the state’s total since March.
Missouri health officials have documented 464,000 cases of infection and 7,130 deaths related to COVID-19. About 100,000 cases of have been reported in the Kansas City metropolitan area of Missouri.
Steve Stites, chief medical officer at KU Health Systems in Kansas City, Kansas, said folks shouldn’t pretend the 2021 Super Bowl granted them permission to socialize in ways likely to spread coronavirus among revelers. While football players would certainly be under a microscope, he said, individuals observing the contest from afar also would be tested.
“Don’t get cocky,” Stites said. “We are still at widespread community transmission. That has not ended.”
Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor urged fans to responsibly celebrate the Super Bowl by wearing masks and practicing good hygiene.
“We appreciate our health care workers in Tampa and in Kansas City working to keep fans safe,” Lucas said, “and encourage everyone to do their part in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Let’s go, Chiefs!”
Nurses from the KU Health System, which is the official health care provider for the Chiefs, placed a friendly wager with AdventHealth Tampa, the exclusive hospital of the Buccaneers. With a Chiefs victory Sunday, nurses at AdventHealth Tampa would be compelled to wear scrub tops featuring Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes the following week and post the evidence on social media. If the Bucs win the game, KU health care professionals would have to wear scrubs featuring Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady and share the experience online.
Former Chiefs offensive guard Will Shields, who is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said the wager was a tribute to the health care workers striving daily to care for the nation amid the pandemic.
“As a lot of folks in Kansas City are honoring front-line workers by staying at home and wearing masks, we will continue to honor you and be forever grateful for your unselfish sacrifice and efforts during these unprecedented times. Your work does not go unnoticed,” he said.
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