Drew Rogers isn’t as excited for this year’s Super Bowl. 

Part of it is because the Kansas City Chiefs advancing to the Super Bowl seemed inevitable. The other part? Not being able to celebrate with friends because of the pandemic.

Last year, Rogers and his friends got a table at a pub in the Power & Light District downtown. It was exhilarating and felt like being part of history, he said. But this Sunday, he’s staying home and watching the game with his wife and two dogs.

Across the nation, many people are planning to stay home to watch the Super Bowl — one survey by Adtaxi found that 68% respondents planned to watch the game at home, either alone or only with other household members. But there will still likely be Kansas Citians gathering in large groups or at bars to watch the game — and celebrate afterwards if the Chiefs win.

“Gathering virtually or with people you live with is the safest way to celebrate the Super Bowl this year,” advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on their COVID-19 website. “This year, choose a safer way to enjoy the game.”

Chiefs fans gather at Union Station for a celebratory parade after the Super Bowl win in 2020. Photo by Zach Bauman/The Beacon.

Last year, before the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, Kansas City’s Power & Light District held a massive tailgate party for thousands of people. The city hosted a Super Bowl parade downtown, drawing an estimated 77,000 people to Union Station and 22,046 more to the Power & Light District.

This year, the City of Kansas City congratulated the Chiefs on their AFC Championship win and Super Bowl advancement, but announced that it will not be hosting any public celebrations if the Chiefs win. Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said the commission was considering options for a celebration in the future, once it is safe to gather again.

“While we all wish we could celebrate a Super Bowl win down Grand Boulevard again with hundreds of thousands of fans, it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to put our players’ and fans’ safety at risk by hosting an in-person celebration,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a news release. “We are still fighting a pandemic that has already taken nearly 2,000 lives in our region alone, and our top priority will continue to be keeping our region safe.”

While the city won’t be hosting a public celebration, that doesn’t mean people won’t gather in groups at home or in bars to watch the Super Bowl and either celebrate or commiserate afterward. Which is good for businesses, but goes against health officials’ advice, potentially spreading COVID-19.

Currently in Kansas City, patrons at bars must remain seated and are required to wear masks when not drinking. Groups are limited to 10 people or fewer, and they need to be spaced six feet apart. Bars in the city are limited to 50% capacity and need to close by midnight. Jackson, Platte and Clay counties share the same restrictions. In Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, only eight people can be seated together. In Johnson County, capacity is limited to either 50% or 50 people, whichever is lower. Wyandotte County has a slightly later closing time of 12:30 a.m., although patrons must stop being served at midnight.

It’s well known that restaurants and bars are linked with the spread of COVID-19. A study published in Nature in November that looked at the cellphone data of 98 million people found restaurants were “superspreaders” with a higher infection risk, likely because of a high number of visitors who stay for long periods of time. 

And a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from September found that COVID-19 patients were more likely to report going to a restaurant or bar. Mask use and social distancing are harder to maintain at bars, contributing to the risk COVID-19 spread.

The Super Bowl wouldn’t be the first sporting event to cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Los Angeles County’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, said that fans congregating in public patios during the NBA finals was one of the causes of L.A.’s deadliest spike of cases during the pandemic.

Across the country, cities and states, including Kansas City, Illinois, Connecticut and California, have been easing COVID-19 restriction in the last few weeks.

Many states, especially in the Midwest, are currently allowing full capacity at restaurants and bars.

Other safety concerns

Besides the risk of spreading COVID-19, there are other dangers in celebrating the Super Bowl, including car accidents and celebratory gunfire.

Anyone not watching the game from home has an increased chance of getting into a fatal car crash on Super Bowl Sunday. There is a 41% increase in average fatalities in the hours after the Super Bowl, according to a study that looked at 27 years of data by researchers at the University of Toronto. The researchers attributed the increase of vehicle collisions to alcohol, inattention and fatigue.

If the Chiefs win, there also will likely be celebratory gunfire. Last year, on the night of the Super Bowl, there were 163 reports of gunfire to the Kansas City Police Department between 5:30 p.m. and 1 a.m.

“Celebratory gunfire is illegal and dangerous,” said Donna Drake, a spokesperson for KCPD. “Bullets which are fired up into the sky come back down at a similar velocity, making them deadly.”

Celebratory gunfire was also a problem recently on New Year’s Eve. Mayor Lucas tweeted a warning about the dangers of firing guns in the air, along with a follow-up tweet about people not taking his and the KCPD’s advice.

Injury and property damage can result from shooting into the air. In 2011, an 11-year-old girl, Blair Shanahan Lane, was killed by celebratory gunfire in Kansas City on Independence Day.

KCPD urges anyone who sees someone shooting to call 911 to report it. Drake said there will be officers staffed throughout the city on Super Bowl Sunday to help keep people safe should there be any issues.

“We are hoping for another win for Kansas City and for everyone to celebrate safely and responsibly,” Drake said.

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Brittany Callan covered health and environment at The Beacon, and was a Report for America corps member for 2020-2021. Funding for this reporting was provided in part by the Health Forward Foundation.