Nation & World: Officials beg fans not to make Super Bowl a superspreader

photo by: AP File Photo

In this Feb. 4, 2021, file photo, people wait in line for an exhibit at the NFL Experience in Tampa, Fla. The city is hosting Sunday's Super Bowl football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Kansas City Chiefs superfan Ty Rowton hugged strangers in the streets of Miami last year after watching his team win the Super Bowl and then joined hundreds of thousands of fans back home at a victory parade, thinking little of a mysterious virus that his buddies were beginning to talk about.

The championship seems like a lifetime ago. Now the Chiefs are preparing to play in the Super Bowl again, and the virus has morphed into a once-in-a-century pandemic that has health officials on edge as fans congregate at parties and bars for the game.

The nation’s top health officials sounded the alarm this week about the Super Bowl being a potential superspreader event, and they urged people to gather with friends over Zoom, not in crowds.

“I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly. People gather, they watch games together. We’ve seen outbreaks already from football parties,” said Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So I really do think that we need to watch this and be careful.”

The Super Bowl comes as the nation sees a dramatic drop in new virus cases — a sign that the infection spike from holiday gatherings is easing. The virus has killed more than 459,000 people in the U.S., but the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases went from 180,489 as of Jan. 22 to 125,854 as of Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Health officials fear the game could seed new cases at exactly the wrong time. Just this week, the new coronavirus strain that spread quickly in the United Kingdom was confirmed in Kansas after turning up in several other states. Other highly contagious variants also have scientists worried. States are in a race to vaccinate before the newcomers become widespread and additional strains emerge.

After a long year of shutdowns, it remains to be seen whether Americans will heed the warnings for an event that was watched by more than 100 million people last year. The fact that it’s Tom Brady seeking his seventh Super Bowl victory against Kansas City’s star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, only adds to the intrigue surrounding the game.

Rowton, who goes to games wearing an arrowhead on his head and a cape signed by players, won’t be hugging strangers this year. But he won’t exactly be following the advice of health officials, either: He plans to eat barbecue and watch the game in a friend’s basement “man cave.” He will be unmasked with about 10 other fans.

“I have lost a lot more people to drugs this year who have relapsed, so for me it is one of those where I can’t live in fear because if I do that, I will probably relapse and start drinking again, and that will end up killing me for sure,” said Rowton, a recovering alcoholic who attended 329 straight home games before ending the streak this season.

The game will be played in front of about 22,000 fans in Tampa, many of them vaccinated health workers.

In Tampa, Mayor Jane Castor announced a temporary ordinance requiring that masks be worn outside in several popular gathering spots. The order states that violators could be fined $500 as a “last resort.”

Another ordinance requires masks at any indoor location when social distancing is not possible. That would include many bars and restaurants but not private residences.

The city has acquired 150,000 donated masks that officials will give out to anyone who needs one in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. The slogan is “need a mask, just ask.”

Castor, a former Tampa police chief who handled law enforcement for past Super Bowls in the city, said she is keenly aware that the goal is to prevent the game from becoming an event that triggers a spike in infections.

“We are hosting an event that is going to be the most watched sporting event in the entire world,” she said. “We have got to get this right.”

As part of that effort, Castor released a joint video with Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas urging caution. Last year, an estimated 20,000 people showed up at the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City to watch the Super Bowl on a massive screen.

Lucas called for the exact opposite in the video: “I encourage everyone to celebrate in small groups instead of squeezing into a crowded bar.”

The Kansas Hospital Association enlisted the Chiefs’ play-by-play announcer to do a public service announcement urging health precautions.

Hospitals in Kansas, Missouri and several other Midwestern states were bursting in November and December with coronavirus patients, although cases have dropped recently. The situation was so dire at one point that rural patients were being flown hundreds of miles for treatment because closer hospitals were full. Health officials don’t want to see that scenario repeated.

“If you have 10 or 20 people you are meeting with, there is a very good likelihood that one or two of those people will have COVID-19,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control for the University of Kansas Health System, which was inundated during the surge. “If you are in a small enclosed space, then three or four of those people will get it.”

Kile Chaney, a 42-year-old stone mason from Harrisonville, Mo., said he will have no trouble following that advice. He described himself as introverted by nature and said he plans to barbecue wings and watch the game at home with his family.

“We don’t usually make too big of a deal to go out to Super Bowl parties anyway,” Chaney said, “so the COVID thing is not going to play into how we celebrate a Chiefs victory.”


Wyo. GOP rebukes Liz Cheney over impeachment vote

Rawlins, Wyo. (ap) — The Wyoming Republican Party voted overwhelmingly Saturday to censure U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney for voting to impeach President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Only eight of the 74-member state GOP’s central committee stood to oppose censure in a vote that didn’t proceed to a formal count. The censure document accused Cheney of voting to impeach even though the U.S. House didn’t offer Trump “formal hearing or due process.”

“We need to honor President Trump. All President Trump did was call for a peaceful assembly and protest for a fair and audited election,” said Darin Smith, a Cheyenne attorney who lost to Cheney in the Republican U.S. House primary in 2016. “The Republican Party needs to put her on notice.”

Cheney in a statement after the vote said she remained honored to represent Wyoming and will always fight for issues that matter most to the state.

“Foremost among these is the defense of our Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees. My vote to impeach was compelled by the oath I swore to the Constitution,” Cheney said.

Inmates at jail in St. Louis set fires, break out windows

Inmates at a St. Louis jail set fires, caused flooding, broke out fourth-floor windows and tossed a stationary bike, chairs, mattresses and other things outside Saturday in the latest disturbance over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions that have limited visits and stalled court proceedings, officials said.

Dozens of law enforcement officers worked for hours before bringing the riot at the St. Louis City Justice Center under control shortly before 10 a.m., a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, Jacob Long, said. About 115 inmates were involved, said Long, who described the group as “extremely violent and noncompliant” in an interview with The Associated Press.

One corrections officer was attacked and treated at a hospital for his injuries before being released, Long said. No detainees were hurt, he said.

Video posted on social media by passersby showed inmates standing near three windows on the fourth floor that had been smashed out. Some carried signs or tossed items, some ablaze, to the sidewalk below. Firefighters used a hose to put out the fires.

Long didn’t have a cost estimate for the damage but described it as “fairly extensive.”

Justices: Calif. can’t enforce indoor church service ban

Washington (ap) — The Supreme Court is telling California that it can’t bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it can keep for now a ban on singing and chanting indoors.

The high court issued orders late Friday in two cases where churches had sued over coronavirus-related restrictions in the state.

The justices said the state can cap indoor services at 25% of a building’s capacity.

Israeli protesters call on Netanyahu to step down

Jerusalem (ap) — Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, demanding his resignation.

The protesters have been gathering each week in central Jerusalem for over seven months, saying Netanyahu should step down because of his corruption trial and what they say is mismanagement of the country’s coronavirus crisis.

The protesters say Netanyahu cannot serve as prime minister when he is on trial for charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. His trial is set to resume this week.

They also blame him for damage to the economy, with unemployment in double digits after a series of nationwide lockdowns.

The country is to begin easing its third nationwide lockdown today. But most restrictions will remain in place, with coronavirus infections continuing to soar despite one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns.

Israel is preparing to hold new elections March 23.

Police shooting sets off fiery protests in southern Chile

Santiago, Chile (ap) — The shooting of a street juggler has set off protests over alleged police violence in southern Chile, with several buildings set ablaze and an officer held in custody for investigations on Saturday.

Local news media showed about 10 buildings set ablaze in the southern tourist town of Panguipulli following the shooting on Friday, and authorities reported other protests in Santiago, the capital.

Police said 27-year-old Francisco Martínez Romero resisted police at a routine identity check.

A video circulated widely on social media showed an officer shooting toward the feet of the man, who was carrying and sometimes waving what appeared to be two blunt machetes used in his performance. After a moment, he leaped out and rushed toward the officer. Several shots were fired and the man collapsed in the street.

A local judge ordered the officer, who was not identified, held for investigation for two days.

Report: Trump campaign listed payment to legislator’s firm

Phoenix (ap) — Former President Donald Trump’s unsuccessful reelection campaign reported it paid over $6,000 to a business belonging to an Arizona legislator who sought to have the Legislature overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state.

The campaign’s latest financial disclosure includes a Dec. 18 payment of $6,037 to a professional limited liability corporation belonging to Republican Rep. Mark Finchem for an expense labeled as “recount: legal consulting,” the Arizona Republic reported Saturday.

Finchem, a Tucson-area Republican who is not a lawyer, told the newspaper the payment was reimbursement for “crowd control and security costs” for a Nov. 30 post-election meeting he convened at a Phoenix hotel for presentations by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others.

Attempts Saturday by The Associated Press to obtain comment from Finchem were not immediately successful. His phone’s mailbox was full and he did not immediately responded to emailed questions.

The corporation listed in the campaign’s disclosure was not disclosed in Finchem’s most recent financial disclosure, which covered all of 2020, the Republic reported.

Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog group, called for an explanation of the reported payment to Finchem’s firm “and how it influenced his official work as a legislator to try and overturn a free and fair election.”

1 dead, several hurt in shooting at Chicago-area hotel

Bloomingdale, Ill. (ap) — A shooting early Saturday during a large gathering at a suburban Chicago hotel left one man dead and several other people wounded, police said.

The shooting occurred during “some type of large get-together” among guests at the Indian Lakes Hotel in Bloomingdale, according to Bloomingdale Public Safety Director Frank Giammarese. Investigators were still piecing together what happened, he said, but “it appears that there were a couple of different groups attending different events at the hotel” when “something transpired and that’s when the shooting took place, mostly in the hallways at the hotel.”

James McGill Jr., 27, of Chicago, was pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

As many as six other people were hit by gunfire, but the exact number was unknown because several people fled — including one or more possible suspects, Giammarese said. No police officers were shot, he said.

He said there have been “ongoing concerns” about large gatherings at the hotel in the recent past.

Myanmar junta blocks internet access as coup protests expand

Yangon, Myanmar (ap) — Myanmar’s new military authorities appeared to have cut most access to the internet on Saturday as they faced a rising tide of protest over their coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.

Numerous internet users noted a slow disappearance of data services, especially from mobile service providers, that accelerated sharply late Saturday morning. Broadband connection also later failed, while there were mixed reports on whether landline telephone service and mobile voice connections were still working.

NetBlocks, a London-based service that tracks internet disruptions, said Saturday afternoon that “a near-total internet shutdown is now in effect” in Myanmar, with connectivity falling to just 16% of normal levels.

The broad outage followed Friday’s military order to block Twitter and Instagram because some people were trying to use the platforms to spread what authorities deemed fake news. Facebook had already been blocked earlier in the week — though not completely effectively.


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