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Medical experts express concerns about Super Bowl parties spreading COVID-19

Linda Calzone from Milford helped her father, Leo Atteratta, walk to see Gillette Stadium's playing field after receiving his shot at the state mass vaccination center earlier this week.
Linda Calzone from Milford helped her father, Leo Atteratta, walk to see Gillette Stadium's playing field after receiving his shot at the state mass vaccination center earlier this week.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Massachusetts’ latest coronavirus figures continued their downward trend Saturday, according to state data, but public health experts are warning that Super Bowl parties Sunday could spark an increase in new cases.

The timing of this year’s Super Bowl, nearly a year into the pandemic, comes as the state is expected to ease some capacity restrictions for many businesses starting Monday.

The state’s Department of Public Health reported 3,378 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Saturday, and the Massachusetts total increased to 513,526. The confirmed death toll reached 14,622, including 59 newly reported deaths.

There were 58,768 people estimated to have active cases of the potentially deadly virus, and 1,451 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus.

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The latest figures are down from historic highs set last month in Massachusetts after thousands attended large holiday gatherings against the advice of health experts.

Governor Charlie Baker, on Thursday, cited progress made in the pandemic when he announced the state would allow businesses like restaurants, gyms, and stores to increase their capacity from 25 percent to 40 percent, reversing a restriction imposed after Christmas.

Baker told reporters that “everyone’s hard work and preparation is now making it possible for us to continue to step back to what we might call a new normal.”

The state is also expected to launch a call center Monday to help those age 75 and up schedule appointments for vaccine shots, after many faced difficulty navigating a state website to arrange for one. The call center, reached by dialing 211, will be open Mondays through Fridays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., he said.

Dr. David Hamer, a physician at Boston Medical Center and a Boston University epidemiologist, said typical Super Bowl gatherings — with lots of cheering fans eating and drinking in close quarters — increase the risk of transmission, particularly if those in attendance don’t wear masks, he said.

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New England isn’t playing in this year’s championship game, but there is intense local interest as former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is leading Tampa Bay against Kansas City at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

“There is a definite risk of a post-Super Bowl surge, or at least a rise in cases,” Hamer said.

Hamer said he hoped that any impact on new infections from Sunday gatherings will not reverse the downward trend in cases in Massachusetts, or elsewhere in the country.

“It may be a spike in the curve, and then hopefully will get back under control, and as the spring comes on and more vaccines are distributed, we will be doing well,” Hamer speculated.

Other public health experts also warned of the risk posed by game-day festivities.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on MSNBC Friday that people should avoid large gatherings for the game.

“It’s a perfect setup to have a mini super-spreader event in your own house,” Fauci said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control, said Tuesday that “gathering virtually or with the people you live with is the safest way to root for your team,” according to her Twitter post.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.