People should avoid gathering in large groups Sunday to watch the Super Bowl, Massachusetts' health chief said Thursday, warning it could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases at a time when COVID-19 data is trending in a positive direction.
“I urge people to watch and celebrate the Super Bowl with people they live with and I know that’s a lot to ask,” Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Told NBC10 Boston and NECN.
“We’re almost there. We’re almost there. There’s a light at the end of this very long dark tunnel,” she said.
Some observers believe the Super Bowl could become a superspreader event if people in New England gather to watch former Patriot quarterback Tom Brady try to lead his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the championship.
Generally, Massachusetts' coronavirus metrics have been trending down, according to the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard, with the average number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths peaking in the second week of January. The testing rate peaked Jan. 1. The figures reported daily are important for tracking trends with the virus' spread, though a single-day change may not reflect a larger trend, and may reflect incomplete data.
Bharel's remarks come as the state grapples with high demand for coronavirus vaccines amid criticism the sign-up process is difficult to navigate and appointments are hard to secure.
Bharel acknowledged that the state is working to improve the process.
“It’s a top priority and we could do more and we will and it’s very important to us to make sure the vaccine is getting to people where they are,” said Bharel. “We’ve been working very closely with our communities on community engagement, understanding what communities need.”
She said the state's call center will be available Friday and that officials are working on improving the website's usability.
Meanwhile, Chelsea -- hard hit by the virus -- is the latest Massachusetts community to open up a COVID vaccine site on Thursday.
Bharel said the state now has 125 vaccine sites open including five large scale centers and she adds that more are coming. She points out that they are making fixes to the online registration site and a phone option is coming.
“Having a call center available starting tomorrow who are 75 and older so that they are able to get assistance with using the website,” said Bharel.
Bharel said she was "cautiously optimistic” about the positive COVID data, but urged people to continue to stay vigilant.
“It’s about people wearing masks, people social distancing , good hygiene and not gathering in large groups,” she said.