Popular NFL games led to countywide Covid spikes at the height of the pandemic as researchers seek to understand superspreading events

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Counties with NFL stadiums saw COVID-19 spikes after crowded football games in the first season of the pandemic, a new study finds, as researchers better understand how to avoid superspreading events, even when cases decline across the country two years later.

key facts

Researchers from University College London and Texas A&M University found counties where NFL stadiums held games with at least 20,000 fans had Covid spike rates 2.23 times higher than stadiums with fewer or no fans.

Those spikes occurred about two to three weeks after the games, according to the study, published Friday morning in NEVERalthough the researchers found “very little evidence” of spikes after an initial data collection seven days later.

The researchers, who analyzed coronavirus numbers using the New York Times The Covid database during the 2020-2021 season, prior to the widespread rollout of vaccines, found no evidence of county-level Covid spikes after games with fewer than 5,000 fans in attendance.

Large events, the researchers urged, “should be handled with extreme caution during public health events where vaccines, on-site testing, and various countermeasures are not available to the public.

big number

31,700. That’s the number of fans who turned out for a Dallas Cowboys game at midseason, the highest attendance of any NFL game during the 2020-2021 season (Cowboys averaged 90,929 fans per game in the 2019-2020 season). , according to ESPN). Other teams, such as the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, and Arizona Cardinals, kept attendance below 5,000 per game. The lowest attended game that season had only 748 fans in the crowd.

key background

The NFL was the first major American sports league to announce plans to play a full season in 2020, with games beginning in September of that year, six months after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Twenty of the league’s 32 teams allowed fans in attendance, with varying levels of crowd control, in accordance with local regulations and NFL protocols, which also included team testing and contact tracing between players. The league was able to keep infection levels low among players, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, faced with the prospect of a crippling revenue shortage without ticket sales, NFL teams tried to compromise, with distancing protocols that separated fans in the stands and mask requirements during games. . Research into the spread of Covid among fans during those games has so far been mixed. In total, there were 117 games with fans present and 152 without them. According to a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stadiums were able to control the spread with distancing and masking requirements, as stadiums did not reach full capacity.


Researchers in the NEVER The study cautioned against solely blaming NFL games or the large crowds that followed them for Covid spikes both in the counties where the games were played and in neighboring counties. Variations in local Covid policies and guidelines at the time could also influence the spread of the virus, the researchers said.

Other reading

Study: With masking and distancing in place, 2020 NFL stadium openings had no impact on local Covid-19 infections (MIT News)

Stadium revenue each NFL team will lose if games are played without fans (Forbes)

How the NFL navigated through a pandemic and reached the finish line of a historic season (NFL)

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