(CBS Local)- While the Super Bowl is still a few weeks away, one of the biggest questions being asked, aside from which teams will make it, is what will the NFL’s biggest game look like in the COVID era? Will fans be allowed to attend? If so, how many?
While we don’t have the exact answers to those questions at this point, the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, did an interview in mid-December that gives some idea of the league’s approach. On a basic level, they are looking to have fans in the stadium but at a capacity level that would allow for social distancing in accordance with their guidelines laid out before the regular season.
“I think it’s going to very much look like what we’ve seen throughout the season which is use of masks by everyone, physical distance, all of the measures we put in place for risk mitigation and risk reduction,” said Dr. Sills in an interview with NFL Network. “There will be no change as far as those stadium procedures and policies that we’ve been following everywhere. As far as the total capacity I think that’s something we’re still looking at. Whatever we do it has to be driven by safety.”
Sills told the network that they are working with public health officials in Florida to determine what is the best course of action for the game set to take place at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on February 7.
“We’re working very closely with public health officials not only in Florida, but nationwide looking at this concept of if we do bring in some vaccinated healthcare workers, what’s the right number and how can we accommodate them,” said Dr. Sills. “But, you won’t see any changes to the basics of our protocols and what we’ve done throughout the season.”
That said, based on the attendance numbers from the regular season, one would expect a decent sized crowd in Tampa Bay. The three Florida teams (Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami) were second, third and sixth in the league in average attendance this year according to ESPN. Tampa averaged 14,483 fans for its eight home games this season or about 22 percent of the stadium’s capacity.
At the very least, based on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s letter to the president of the Tampa Super Bowl Host Committee, Rob Higgins, the league wants to have vaccinated healthcare workers in attendance at the game as a way of honoring those frontline workers for their continued efforts throughout the pandemic.
“We are currently discussing with public health officials our desire to invite vaccinated health care workers to the Super Bowl as our guests. Subject to their approval and in consultation with your team, we aim to do this in a safe and responsible way,” Goodell wrote in the December letter. “We know that over the past year, these frontline workers have put their own lives at risk to the benefit of society and we owe them our ongoing gratitude. We also know that they will remain essential for months to come to treat those who are ill and administer vaccines. We hope that in some small way, this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes as we look forward to a better and healthier year.”
Details on the exact number of healthcare workers, like the capacity for the game, have not yet been revealed. That number will almost certainly depend on what the COVID situation looks like in Florida generally and Hillsborough county in specific as we get closer to the game. While it won’t be the raucous maximum capacity crowds of years past, it does seem that the league is intent on having fans in the stands for the game.