According to state data, the latest coronavirus numbers in Massachusetts continued their downward trend on Saturday, but public health experts warn that Super Bowl parties on Sunday could spark an increase in new cases.
The time has come for this year’s Super Bowl, almost a year after the pandemic began, as the state is expected to ease some capacity constraints on many companies starting Monday.
The state health department reported 3,378 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total in Massachusetts to 513,526. The confirmed death toll reached 14,622, including 59 newly reported deaths.
It is estimated that 58,768 people had active cases of the potentially fatal virus and 1,451 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus.
The latest numbers are lower than historic highs reached last month in Massachusetts after thousands attended major holiday gatherings against the advice of health experts.
Governor Charlie Baker quoted the progress of the pandemic on Thursday as he announced that the state would allow businesses such as restaurants, gyms and stores to increase their capacity from 25 to 40 percent, lifting a post-Christmas limit.
Baker told reporters, “Everyone’s hard work and preparation now enables us to continue to return to what we might call the new normal.”
The state is also expected to open a call center on Monday to help people age 75 and over schedule appointments for vaccination shots after many struggled to search for one on a state website. The call center, which can be reached at 211, will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., he said.
Dr. David Hamer, a doctor at Boston Medical Center and an epidemiologist at Boston University, said typical Super Bowl gatherings – where many cheering fans eat and drink in a confined space – increase the risk of transmission, especially if those in attendance are unclothed, said masks he.
New England isn’t playing in this year’s championship game, but there’s strong local interest as former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leads Tampa Bay against Kansas City at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
“There’s definitely a risk of a spike after the Super Bowl, or at least a spike in cases,” Hamer said.
Hamer said he hoped the impact of Sunday gatherings on new infections won’t reverse the downward trend in cases in Massachusetts or elsewhere in the country.
“It could be a spike in the curve and then hopefully get back under control, and when spring comes and more vaccines are distributed we will do fine,” speculated Hamer.
Other public health experts also warned of the risk of daytime celebrations.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said on MSNBC Friday that people should avoid large gatherings for the game.
“It’s a perfect setup to have a mini super-spreader event in your own home,” said Fauci.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control, said Tuesday that “meeting virtually, or with the people you live with, is the surest way for your team to gain a foothold,” it said her twitter post.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.