SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – The NFL and public health officials are urging fans attending the Super Bowl to wear masks throughout the game, but how important are masks in a place where everyone is vaccinated or recently tested?
Very important, according to a new pre-publication from researchers in Japan.
The authors performed simulations to estimate viral dynamics in a 40,000-seat stadium. They estimated the time fans spend in the stands, lobby, concession areas and restrooms, and made some assumptions about vaccine effectiveness and transmission. The study has not yet been peer reviewed.
The authors found that the risk of a vaccinated person becoming infected during a game was 16 times higher if the person was not wearing a mask.
The researchers also compared the risks between vaccinated and unvaccinated fans. With a variant like the omicron in circulation, they determined that a vaccinated fan without a mask is four times more likely to become infected than an unvaccinated fan wearing a mask.
It 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 that a PCR swab can detect viral RNA in a person’s nose.
“Vaccines do not protect [against] infection as an endpoint as well as disease. [Vaccination] decreases the likelihood of getting sick to a much greater extent,” he said.
“Masks, on the other hand, if you’re not vaccinated, they might be a little better at preventing you from getting infected. But if you’re infected, you’re much more likely to be in hospital or in the intensive care unit.
The CDC tracks hospitalizations and cases by vaccination status here.
When vaccinated people wear masks in a stadium and there is adequate ventilation, the Japanese study found their overall risk of infection during the game is around 0.013%. With more than 70,000 fans expected for the Super Bowl, that kind of best-case scenario would yield about nine new infections.
“People going to the Super Bowl have to 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. Schooly.
The NFL will give all fans entering SoFi Stadium a KN95 mask and will have signs and staff reminding people to wear them. But the odds of universal compliance seem longer than a 4th and 30.
Researchers analyzed videos of British football matches using artificial intelligence and calculated that less than 30% of fans actually wore masks.
“If you’ve been vaccinated, you can’t de-vaccinate mid-game, but you can definitely take your mask off,” Schooley said.