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For L.A. football fans, there’s good reason to celebrate: the Rams host the NFC Championship game this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
If the Rams win, they won’t have to worry too much about a Super Bowl commute — they’ll be taking the field on their home turf at SoFi Stadium. Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first team to host the Big Game, and, well, let’s just say plenty of celebratory avocado tequila was imbibed by all.
But even if the Rams don’t make it to the Super Bowl, that likely won’t move the needle too much when it comes to the number of viewing parties held for the most-watched broadcast of the year.
For two years, shouting, drinking and hugging have been on hold, as health officials have pleaded with the public to tone down their parties, or skip them altogether.
In 2020, gatherings to watch the Lakers games in the NBA finals were blamed on accelerating the virus’ spread, said Los Angeles County Public Health officials. A few weeks later Angelenos were warned against watch parties when the L.A. Dodgers played in (and won) the World Series.
Now with broad access to safe and effective coronavirus vaccines, experts say people should still take precautions, due to the widespread and highly-transmissible omicron variant.
“Everybody’s going to have to start thinking like an epidemiologist,” said Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “Thinking about what their risks are, and how they can strip down risks and make it as safe for those people who haven’t had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet, like the children under five, or people who just might not have as much protection from vaccines as healthy people.”
Here are a few ways that fans can watch the game, with some guidance from experts on how to stay safe.
Watching the game with people in your household is the only way to almost guarantee you won’t contract COVID-19, said Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at UC Irvine.
“I can’t give anyone a watertight guarantee that they won’t get COVID if they go to a party, so if risk management is not for you and you prefer absolute minimal risks, then the answer is don’t have a party or don’t go to one,” he said.
Instead, host a party online and watch with friends and family using Google Hangouts, Zoom or streaming services that include virtual group watch features.
Everyone attending, including children as young as 5 should be fully vaccinated, and if appropriate, boosted. If you received your second mRNA or single Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose before August, you’re due for a booster shot, including children as young as 12 years old.
“It’s never too late to boost and it’s never too late to get vaccinated,” Noymer said.
There are vaccination sites across the state, with walk-up or drive-up options depending on where you live.
In L.A. County, 78% of people aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated, so there’s a good chance everyone at your party has gotten the shots, but experts say there are still precautions to take to avoid spreading the virus.
Everyone attending the party, including young kids not yet old enough to be vaccinated, should use a rapid home antigen test about an hour before the party to check if they are infectious.
“It’s not going to be a perfect proxy. We know that those rapid antigen tests may not pick up infection in the very early days of infection, but they will likely tell you if you are infectious,” Rimoin said.
To get four free test kits shipped to your house, sign up on the U.S. Postal Service website. It’s good for a one-time shipment. If you purchase test kits at the store you may be able to get reimbursed. Health insurance companies are now required to cover the cost of eight over-the counter at home tests per covered individual per month.
For instance, a family of four all on the same health plan would be able to get up to 32 of these tests covered by their insurer per month, up to $12 per test kit.
If you don’t feel well and can’t test, don’t go to a party.
“You don’t want to be responsible for spreading it to others,” Rimoin said.
If it’s feasible, move the TV outdoors and keep everyone there as well. If you have to stay inside, consider wearing a mask and open the windows and turn on the ceiling fan to get air moving.
Since many people shout and cheer during the game, increasing airflow will help disperse the air droplets that we exhale, which is how the coronavirus spreads.
Spread out as much as possible, and don’t invite too many people to the party. The more attendees, the more risk that someone has the virus.
“It’s not zero risk when you are vaccinated, you still need to do everything that you can to reduce potential spread of the virus,” Rimoin said. “I would be careful if you’re going to be around kids and other people who may not be vaccinated or may not have optimal immunity. And remember that you can be part of a transmission chain.”
If you still have symptoms, stay home and isolate. You can stay infectious for five-to-10 days. If you no longer have a fever or other symptoms after at least five days, take a rapid at-home test.
“And if you get a positive test, after day five, you should isolate until you get a negative rapid antigen test,” Rimoin said.
If you start feeling sick, don’t wait for a positive test result before you tell other attendees of your symptoms. UC Irvine’s Noymer said if one person has symptoms, everyone should get tested as soon as possible, to avoid spreading the virus further.
“Because omicron has such a short incubation period, the extra 24 hours it may take to get the PCR test result back from the lab can make a difference,” he said. “If someone becomes symptomatic three-to-five days after the party, they should tell the other party goers, and then follow up with their test results.”
Our experts agree that people should be cognizant of the risks and try to minimize them.
“Vaccines, masks, social distancing, taking activities outdoors or spreading out as much as you can and testing,” Rimoin said. “That’s how we’re going to be able to get together, have fun, and protect the people around us, the people that we love.”