As Rams fans gear up for a parade Wednesday to celebrate the team’s Super Bowl victory, public health officials and experts urged people to gauge their level of risk and take appropriate precautions.
Public health officials generally advise people to avoid crowds, but “there’s no avoiding crowds in a parade,” Dr. George Rutherford, UCSF professor of epidemiology said Monday. “The safest bet is to wear a mask, if you’re going to go.”
The parade will run from the Shrine Auditorium to the Coliseum, where a rally will be held in a plaza outside the stadium. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generally advises that outdoor spaces are safer than indoor ones when interacting with people outside your household.
Los Angeles County is still considered an area of high transmission for the virus, which means that, under CDC guidelines, people may want to consider wearing masks outside whenever in sustained close contact with others — especially if they or someone in their household are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccines, are at higher risk of severe disease, or are immunocompromised.
The Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 to win their first Super Bowl title in Los Angeles.
With thousands of new cases still being reported daily in L.A. County, “there are bound to be people there who are infectious,” Rutherford said. The UCSF epidemiologist said he would discourage anyone who is unvaccinated or at higher risk of severe disease from the coronavirus from heading to the parade at all.
“If you’re 80 years old and have diabetes and pulmonary disease, it’s probably one to avoid,” he said. Besides, “you guys have such a stacked team, they’ll be back next year, I’m sure.”
Because the parade is outdoors, “we know that it’s a lower-risk event. But we also anticipate that there’s a chance that people could be in fairly close proximity,” said Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health science at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
“Six feet of distancing really applies to people as they’re breathing normally,” Shafir added. If people are shouting and singing, “breath is being exhaled more forcefully, which then necessitates greater distance between individuals.”
L.A. County requires masks in some outdoor settings, including at “mega events,” but officials have said that if hospitalizations remain at current levels, the county could ease that rule as soon as Wednesday.
Public health officials have also advised people to upgrade to N95 respirators, KN-95 masks or surgical masks, which provide better protection than cloth masks from the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.
Shafir said that attending the Rams parade is safest if parade-goers and those in their household are up to date on vaccinations — including boosters if they are eligible — and are not at risk of severe disease.
If they have not gotten a booster shot, are immunocompromised or live with someone who is, or have children in their household who are too young to be vaccinated, Shafir said, “it’s probably a good idea to either wear an upgraded mask … or just stay home and watch it on TV if possible.”
“If someone is immunocompromised, it’s probably not a great time to be going to a very crowded event, even one that’s outdoors,” Shafir said. And as Angelenos weigh their personal risks, she said, they should also factor in the possibility of long COVID, as well as the practical challenges of being unable to work if infected.
While not specifically discussing the Super Bowl parade, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said generally that he believes keeping a mask handy, being vaccinated and trying to stay in a group with other vaccinated people can make large-scale outdoor events safer for participants.
“I think that will help … keep people not just safe, but safely enjoying what I think so many people are looking forward to,” he said.
Ahead of the Super Bowl, L.A. County public health officials urged people to get vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus, get a COVID-19 test as close to the start of any gatherings as possible — as well as afterward if they may have been exposed — and avoid any in-person celebrations if they had tested positive or fallen ill.
Health officials have also recommended that people at big events sign up for the CA Notify app to be alerted of any COVID exposures.
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are falling in Los Angeles County, but there are still thousands of new cases being reported daily and more than 2,000 patients with COVID-19 in local hospitals, according to the latest available data from the county. Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it had deployed a 15-person military medical team to a West Covina hospital to help it handle the ongoing pressure.
Roger Sharma, president of Emanate Health, which operates Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina, said its emergency department was being overwhelmed amid the latest surge. At times, Sharma said, the hospital had been closing down its emergency room to new ambulances for hours at a time.
Sharma said the pressure was the result not just of “a very high number of COVID patients in the hospital,” but increasing numbers of people coming in sick after delaying care during the pandemic, as well as staff shortages as workers got sick with the coronavirus or needed to care for infected relatives.
“We always had beds,” Sharma said, “but we didn’t have staff.”
Times staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.