An unprecedented season of NFL football will come to a close with a Super Bowl unlike any other in Tampa on Feb. 7. The league and the NFLPA will continue vigilant adherence to their jointly-aligned COVID-19 protocols to mitigate risk through the game's final whistle.
"It's a unique year that we're all working through with all of the protocols related to COVID. We're really excited to be part of such a historic event on so many levels," said NFL Events Senior Director Eric Finkelstein, who has helped plan Super Bowl LV and the COVID measures that are unique to this year's event.
Fan Health and Safety at Super Bowl LV
Raymond James Stadium can seat up to 75,000 people, but only a fraction of that will be in the stands this year – many of whom will be vaccinated healthcare workers that the NFL is hosting as special guests.
"The NFL is bringing 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers to the game this year, a gift to our most important MVPs who have put everything on the line to help us as a nation recover from COVID-19," said NFL Events Director Daphne Wood.
All fans in attendance will be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) and required to adhere to safety protocols, including:
- Wearing a complimentary KN95 mask at all times;
- Maintaining a social distance of at least six feet from other fans;
- Maintaining social distance when entering, exiting and moving about the stadium;
- Washing their hands regularly and making use of hand sanitizing stations;
- Presenting all tickets on mobile devices;
- Making cashless purchases to reduce high-touch interactions; and
- Staying home if experiencing COVID-related symptoms.
Additionally, fans won't be seated in the rows immediately behind each sideline. Rather, LED screens will cover the first several rows of each section, allowing about 20 feet of distance between the fans and players, coaches and game day personnel.
Keeping Players, Coaches and Personnel Safe
The league, the NFLPA and NFL clubs have worked hard all season long to keep players and other club personnel safe from COVID-19.
"As we lead up to the Super Bowl, the principles that we've had throughout the course of the season remain in effect," said Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President overseeing health and safety. "The principles were simply from the get-go: what are we doing to ensure that the players, the coaches and other personnel are kept as safe as possible from the pandemic?"
Strict protocols, including testing, cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing and social distancing will remain in place throughout Super Bowl week.
Players, coaches and essential staff have undergone daily COVID-19 testing throughout the entire season. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, they will continue to be tested daily using PCR tests from BioReference Laboratories (BRL)—a national vendor providing a 24-hour turnaround for results.
"Up to this point, across the league, we've now performed more than a million tests," said Miller. "When we had a positive case we were very clear about what we wanted to do: identify that early based on the testing and remove that person from the team environment."
As has been the case all season long, if a player tests positive for COVID-19, he will be immediately isolated and will not participate in the game. All staff and vendors on the ground in Tampa also will be tested regularly.
Ongoing Contact Tracing Protocols
Given the highly transmittable nature of COVID-19, quick and efficient contact tracing remains essential. All players, coaches and personnel will continue to wear Proximity Recording Devices while in the team environment. These contact tracing devices gather information about individuals' proximity to each other – namely, the distance and length of time of interactions.
Based on the data gathered through the wearable devices and traditional contact tracing interviews, a team of medical experts then identifies "high-risk contacts" of a COVID-positive individual.
"More than three dozen times, at least, throughout the course of the season we were able to pull somebody from the facility who was a high-risk close contact of a positive case and know that that individual turned positive later. Those were three dozen cases where we were able to limit the spread of the virus within a facility," said Miller.
Socially Distant and Sanitized Facilities
The practice facilities of both teams, as well as the locker rooms at Raymond James Stadium, have been reconfigured to maximize physical distancing and feature strategically placed hand sanitizer and plexiglass dividers throughout the premises. Rigorous cleaning practices are also in place to ensure high-touch surfaces are sanitized regularly.
Per the intensive protocols that have been in place for all clubs during the latter part of the season, PPE (medical grade face masks) must be worn on the practice fields and the sidelines at all times, without exception.
"Throughout not only the stadium but the entire campus, we have signs reminding folks of the key principles that we want everybody to follow," said Finkelstein. "Everyone who attends the Super Bowl must wear a mask at all times."
Highly- Restricted Access
On Super Bowl Sunday, access to each team's locker room will be tightly capped at 40 non-player club employees, with no media allowed to enter.
Field access will be similarly limited: only essential team and game day personnel will be on the sidelines. Even injured reserve and practice squad members of the participating teams will be seated in a special section off the field that was specially constructed for Super Bowl LV.
The usual flurry of media members, VIPs and other guests on the field before, during and after the game will be visibly absent this year.
A Different Kind of Super Bowl Week
Super Bowl week usually features countless in-person events, including the Super Bowl Experience, Super Bowl Opening Night, media events and various celebrations.
"We've had to withhold a number of events that we would normally do. Those events that are being held are being held outside in a distanced fashion as we want to keep everyone as safe as possible," said NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills.
Even the team travel will be different this year. The Chiefs will head to Tampa closer to Super Bowl Sunday – and players from both teams have self-quarantined as much as possible over the last several weeks and will isolate in their hotels immediately leading up to the game.
"As a collaborative team we were able to navigate our way through some pretty challenging situations – and hopefully that level of collaboration and cooperation will continue through and otherwise as we look for other ways to improve the health and safety of our sport," said Miller.