TAMPA, Fla./LONG BEACH, Calif (Reuters) – Fans hoping to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday will face a much different reality this year, with the novel coronavirus restricting the celebration around one of America’s unofficial holidays.
Those who choose to gather at Super Bowl parties big and small in Tampa and across the country face dire warnings from public health officials to abide by basic health and safety protocols, amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 450,000 lives in the United States.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance said those who attend large watch parties should avoid “chanting or cheering” and avoid going to the restroom during “high-traffic times.”
For local businesses in Tampa, Florida, meeting the safety standards of the COVID-19 era may mean extra work without the usual super-sized plunder they might have enjoyed with America’s biggest sporting event coming to town.
“We gotta make sure we’re absolutely… taking precautions to the nines,” said Tom Malloy, 25, the manager of Ducky’s Sports Lounge in Tampa, which plans to host fans for a watch party on Sunday with indoor and outdoor seating and 40 TVs blasting the big game.
“We’re willing as a business to accept any of those additional costs to kind of make people feel safe.”
Malloy said the pandemic has been a learning experience in how to stay up to code with local safety measures while weathering the “hefty, hefty hit” to revenue.
“We’re using Super Bowl as kind of an opportunity to maybe rekindle a relationship with people who have, you know, been out of the bar scene since COVID came,” said Malloy. “Thank God Super Bowl has been helping us out.”
More than 2,500 miles away in Long Beach, California, Legends Sports Bar on bustling 2nd street is gearing up for what is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year.
Normally the large restaurant would be packed with revelers but due to COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining, additional tables have been installed outside facing giant TVs.
“We’re going to go full blast. TVs on, sound on, and just crank it as much as we can,” said manager Daryl Domantay. All of the tables, which are positioned eight feet apart, had already sold out.
He said it will be up to his staff to keep groups from getting too close, which he admitted will be a challenge.
“It’s going to be tough because usually people run up and down, high-fiving each other. Instead they have to stay in their seat unless they are using the restroom.”
But Domantay said he was lucky – similar bars in Los Angeles County that are governed by a different health department are barred from having TVs on at all to discourage large gatherings.
NFL fans planning an all-day extravaganza of food and football at home aren’t immune to the strict precautions, either.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease specialist, said this week that the typical house parties of the past should “absolutely not” happen.
“As difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it,” Fauci told “Good Morning America.” https://twitter.com/GMA/status/1356941462802468867
The National Basketball Association (NBA) issued a warning of its own to teams and coaches, according to media reports https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/1358092247896641541, telling them they are barred from attending Super Bowl gatherings outside of their homes.
In host city Tampa, where the 22,000-person attendance cap at Raymond James Stadium has made tickets even harder to come by than usual, residents say they’re cutting back on their traditional gatherings.
“Every year we usually do a big huge party,” said Kevin Schmook, a Tampa resident of 24 years. “We can’t invite all of our friends so we just go to a house where we know people are COVID-safe.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Tampa and Rory Carroll in Long Beach; Editing by Andrea Ricci)