Health officials concerned about possible COVID-19 spread at Super Bowl gatherings

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Minnesota doctors are concerned Super Bowl Sunday could turn into "Super-Spreader Sunday" if Minnesotans decide to attend large watch parties over the weekend.

"In the medical community, we do have some trepidation about what’s happening this weekend," Dr. Annie Ideker, a family medicine physician at HealthPartners, said. "The kinds of gatherings we talk about with the Super Bowl are going to be high-risk for spread; people close together indoors for prolonged periods of time, eating and drinking, therefore, not going to be wearing masks."

Dr. Ideker also worries people are experiencing pandemic fatigue, which may lead to being less careful in social settings.

"We are kind of holding our breath and hoping that we don’t get another surge because of the Super Bowl weekend," Dr. Ideker said.

During a briefing Thursday, state health officials urged Minnesotans to avoid watch parties, either in homes or at bars.

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"This is probably not the year to have a Super Bowl party," Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for "safer ways to enjoy the Super Bowl," with these recommendations: "Gathering virtually or with the people you live with is the safest way to celebrate the Super Bowl this year. If you do have a small gathering with people who don’t live with you, outdoors is safer than indoors."

For people who do plan to host or attend small gatherings, the CDC recommends consistent mask-wearing, opening windows to increase ventilation and bringing your own snacks instead of sharing food. They also urge people to avoid chanting or cheering during the game, saying they should clap, stomp or use noisemakers instead.

"The COVID epidemic is still actively present in all of our communities, so any exposure, any increased crowds either in a bar or at home, is going to increase your risk to acquiring the illness," said Dr. Ryan Else, interim acute care medical officer at Allina Health and vice president of medical affairs for Mercy Hospitals.

Dr. Else said these warnings have increased urgency due to the new, more contagious variants starting to circulate in Minnesota.

"Unfortunately, it is a little scary with these variants being present that when people come together they may, No. 1, acquire it more quickly and also, No. 2, more easily share it out in our communities," Dr. Else said.

MDH COVID-19 briefing: 16 cases of UK variant, 2nd case of Brazil variant found in Minnesota

As of Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health has reported 16 cases of the U.K. variant in Minnesota, along with two cases of the Brazilian variant.

Doctors worry these new strains, coupled with Super Bowl gatherings, could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.

"Although we are in a much better state than we were in mid- or early November when the hospitals were bursting at the seams and we were at capacity, we know that we’re not out of the woods and we don’t want to go back there," Dr. Ideker said. "Anything we can do to prevent from being in that true crisis mode is what we in health care want to advocate for."

Dr. Else added, "We will not know the effects of this weekend for two, three or four weeks down the road."