This year's Super Bowl between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs will be like no other as the country continues to battle a deadly pandemic that has infected nearly 27 million, killing over 450,000. While many wondered what the 55-year tradition would look like this time around, with 724 players and staff testing positive for the virus during the regular season, the NFL has grimly soldiered on, taking 2021's combination sporting event-concert-ad bonanza to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Another major difference this year will be in the stands, where only 14,500 fans and 7,500 vaccinated health care workers from around the country will be allowed entry, due to social distancing mandates. (There will also be 30,000 cardboard cutouts of fans.) The medical workers, who have received both doses of the vaccine, were gifted an all expenses-paid trip to attend the big game and will be treated to an exclusive NFL TikTok Tailgate concert headlined by Miley Cyrus. They will also be able to take in what, presumably, will be an eventful halftime performance by the Weeknd, considering he's dropped $7 million of his own cash to make it “cinematic.”
"We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings."
While many are skeptical of hosting such a large gathering during a time like this, it is nice to think these much deserving front-liners will have a moment of respite, as the US continues to mostly bungle the vaccination rollout and normalcy continues to seem far away.
Mic spoke with three healthcare workers who are attending Sunday's main event to see how they're feeling about going, and what their lives are like now, one year into the pandemic.
Poorvi Desai, Hematology/oncology fellow
I'm most looking forward to just physically being there, experiencing the celebration of our city, and finally getting to be a part of such a large event together. I think both performers are awesome and it's going to be incredible experiencing a Super Bowl Halftime Show. Actually, maybe that is what I'm most looking forward to. The biggest concert of the year!
Even though we are vaccinated, we know that the vaccine isn't 100 percent and we have to continue to take the same precautions as everyone else.
On a more existential level, it is not lost on me that the NFL took so long to embrace Dr. Bennet Omalu's research on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. On one hand they were (of course) skeptical of that science, but on the other hand they have been strict about COVID-19 precautions to ensure the game stays safe and enjoyable for us.
This event honestly feels like such a celebration and proof that this new normal is possible.
The pandemic was like the rug was ripped out from underneath our feet. In the early days we were pretty scared of what this virus would do, but I think we have a generally good sense of it at this point (excluding long-term effects, of course). It is just frustrating that our public health messaging has not been so strong. Even though we have almost a year's worth of experience and research on this virus, we still see people diminishing its severity, and there's not much we can do about it until they end up in our care.
I work primarily with cancer patients, so it has been difficult to see people afraid to come to the hospital, get their treatment, or get their screenings done. We are definitely taking it upon ourselves to spread whatever knowledge we have, but this pandemic really showed us how much the government and social media moguls need to work with qualified healthcare workers for impactful public health messaging.
I honestly don't think any of us will get back to what we considered normal before, but I do hope that we will work toward a new normal — one that involves a cleaner and more proactive society focused on prevention rather than reaction. This event honestly feels like such a celebration and proof that this new normal is possible.
Poorvi Desai is a hematology/oncology fellow at the University of South Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. A Florida native and resident for the past six years who went to undergrad and medical school in Kansas City, Desai diplomatically said she was “already happy with whoever wins the Super Bowl.”
Lindsay MacGregor, occupational therapist
There is not enough that I can say to describe the past year as a healthcare worker. To be brutally honest, it has been the most challenging and stressful year of my professional life. I work in a skilled nursing/long-term care facility. I remember the day when we were told over 20 of our residents had tested positive for the virus. We went from 0 to over 20 within a matter of days. The numbers only began to escalate from there.
You don't think that you will ever have to experience this when you sign up for a job in healthcare.
At the beginning, we did not have enough PPE, no N95 masks, not enough gowns. It was scary! Within the past several weeks I for sure have seen a decrease in the numbers. But we are still treating a lot of people post-COVID-19 after they have been in the hospital. For a lot of these individuals, that is when the true recovery begins. Some of these individuals can't walk, speak, or breathe on their own when we first see them. Not only has the past year been physically tough, but extremely mentally tough. You don't think that you will ever have to experience this when you sign up for a job in health care.
With all the craziness of the world as of late, there's always some fear about large groups of crowds. But I feel as though the NFL will have a good handle on security. A host team has never appeared in the Super Bowl, let alone won it, so it would be amazing to witness.
I am personally a believer in the power of science and research, which is why I got vaccinated. I am hopeful that if people can continue to do the right thing we will continue to see a decrease in the numbers. I mean, can it really get worse? I sure hope not!
Lindsay MacGregor is an occupational therapist in St. Petersburg, FL. She's been a proud Bucs season ticket holder for the past five years.
Luis Oyola, Transportation Supervisor
I am not the biggest football fan. However, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I will enjoy the show, the atmosphere, and the time with my coworkers. I have no concerns about the event, as long as the guidelines are followed, and social distancing is upheld.
I have a 5-year-old, and it is very different teaching him now, compared to when I was a kid. The limitations have increased. Being dirty wasn’t as big of a deal, but now we must teach our children to never touch their face, to constantly wash their hands. I myself perform essentially the same isolation rules at my house as with work (masks aside). The toughest part is getting home, and not allowing my child to hug me. My family has to wait until I am out of the shower, with fresh clothes before I can be properly welcomed home.
The efforts with the vaccines, as well as isolation practices, provide me with hope.
I feel proud to be a health care worker and I’m very grateful to the NFL to have the opportunity to get a ticket for Super Bowl LV. I want to thank the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, transporters, environmental services tech, and the first responders for their service. I do believe they all deserve to be called heroes.
The efforts with the vaccines, as well as isolation practices, provide me with hope. This pandemic has left a scar on society, but I believe [after it's over] we will be closer, and more appreciative of what we have.
Luis Oyola is a transportation supervisor in Wesley Chapel, FL. He's rooting for the Bucs.