In-Depth: How important are masks at the Super Bowl? Very, study suggests

SoFi Stadium
Posted at 3:45 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 21:34:35-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – The NFL and public health officials are urging fans attending the Super Bowl to mask up throughout the game, but how important are masks in a venue where everyone is vaccinated or recently tested?

Very important, according to a new pre-print from researchers in Japan.

The authors ran simulations to estimate the viral dynamics in a 40,000-seat stadium. They estimated the time fans spend in the stands, the concourse, concession areas and restrooms, and made certain assumptions about vaccine efficacy and transmission. The study has not yet undergone peer review.

The authors found the risk of a vaccinated person getting infected at a game was 16 times higher if the individual failed to wear a mask.

The researchers also compared the risks between vaccinated and unvaccinated fans. With a variant like omicron circulating, they determined a vaccinated-but-maskless fan is four times more likely to be infected than an unvaccinated fan wearing a mask.

That may sound surprising, but UC San Diego infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Schooley said it’s important to remember the definition of infection: it simply means a PCR swab can detect viral RNA in a person’s nose.

“The vaccines don’t protect [against] infection as an endpoint as well as they do disease. [Vaccination] decreases the likelihood of getting sick to a much, much greater extent,” he said.

“Masks, on the other hand, if you’re not vaccinated, they may prevent you from getting infected a little better. But if you do get infected, you’re much more likely to be in the hospital or in the intensive care unit.”

The CDC tracks hospitalizations and cases by vaccine status here.

When vaccinated people wear masks at a stadium and there’s proper ventilation, the Japanese study found their overall risk of infection during the game is about 0.013 percent. With more than 70,000 fans expected for the Super Bowl, that kind of best-case-scenario would yield about nine new infections.

“People who go to the Super Bowl should wear masks, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. Neither masks nor vaccination are perfect, and when you put them together, you have the best protection,” Dr. Schooley said.

The NFL will give all fans entering SoFi Stadium a KN95 mask and have signs and staff reminding people to wear them. But the odds of universal compliance appear longer than a 4th and 30.

Researchers analyzed video of U.K. soccer games using artificial intelligence, and calculated that fewer than 30 percent of fans actually wore masks.

“If you’ve been vaccinated, you can’t un-vaccinate yourself in the middle of the game, but you can certainly take your mask off,” Schooley said.