TAMPA, Fla. — Super Bowl LV brought in tens of thousands of people from all over the country to the Tampa Bay area. Now, health officials are trying to track COVID-19 cases that might be tied to the big game.
“We want to both be able to ask the question, It’s kind of two things. Did anyone attend the Super Bowl that may have now [been] determined to be infectious? Were they there while they could have spread the disease to others?” said Michael Wiese, an epidemiologist for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County. “Or the other question we want really to answer is are we seeing people that were at the Super Bowl and that’s where they likely acquired coronavirus? So the spread of it at the event itself.”
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Hillsborough County put out a national call requesting information on COVID-19 cases associated with the Super Bowl. The DOH-Hillsborough says it’ll document all cases, whether a Florida resident or visitor, who tested positive for COVID-19 and reported either going to the Super Bowl or other events before or after the game.
“I think there’s a lot of value in making sure that we understand what may have occurred and the risks that were maybe at the Super Bowl during the time of it,” said Wiese.
The DOH-Hillsborough wants agencies to use the CDC’s sharing network called Epi-X, which connects public health officials involved in identifying, investigating and responding to public health threats. The CDC says the network has about 6,000 users.
“This is really important so that we can know, number one, how much do these kinds of events actually contribute to the spread around the country,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, an associate professor at the University of South Florida.
Dr. Roberts says the second issue is watching the spread of variants.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported Florida with 201 confirmed variant cases. While she thinks the NFL did a good job at the venue, Roberts’ concern is what went on with fans outside, in places like Ybor City and at tailgates.
“If you have one of those strains introduced into those conditions where it can spread easily and then add the perfect case scenario: what’s the best way to spread them? Yell. Holler. Scream, ‘The Bucs won!’ And you’ve got virus spreading everywhere,” said Roberts. “I think that the potential exists that these surrounding things actually could’ve created a much, much bigger problem than the actual game itself.”