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How to watch the big game during Covid

How to come together for the big game while still staying apart

Apparently there’s a rather large football game taking place on Sunday, February 7. Although the coronavirus pandemic has impacted much of the professional sports world, the championship game is still on the schedule. The matchup is finally set, The Weeknd is headlining the big halftime show, and you can even buy tickets to attend the game in person, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

In other words, the 2021 big game is providing a bit of normalcy during what has otherwise been an unusual and unprecedented time — but does that mean you should go ahead with your traditional game day party? Not necessarily. COVID-19 is still spreading throughout the United States, with the country recently hitting new records for deaths in a single day. Although the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines may help reduce the spread of COVID-19, most people have not yet been vaccinated — and most of those who have begun the vaccine protocol have not yet received the second dose required to maximize immunity.

This means that most football viewing parties will need to be modified in some way — either by watching the game while video chatting with friends or limiting celebrations to people in your immediate household. “By being careful now, we’ll be able to get back to our old traditions sooner,” explains Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, MPH, CPH, a public health policy and communications expert in NYC. If you’re wondering how to watch the big game this year, our team is here to help.

So, what are the best ways to enjoy the big game without increasing your risk of contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus? Here are some suggestions on how to watch the big game — as well as some answers to questions you might be asking about vaccines, risk factors and the new coronavirus strain.

In this article:

What is the safest way to throw a party for the big game?

The safest way to watch the game is at home, with members of your immediate household. Keeping your party limited to people who live in your home is the best way to reduce your risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 — especially if everyone in your household is already practicing CDC-recommended public health safety protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding unnecessary contact with others.

What if you threw a holiday party and nobody got sick? Does that mean it’s okay to plan a viewing party?

Despite the CDC’s recommendation to reduce your coronavirus risk by celebrating the 2020 winter holidays with members of your immediate household, many people still chose to travel and/or gather with relatives and friends during the winter holiday season. Some of these gatherings helped to spread the novel coronavirus — but others did not, which might inadvertently lead the people who attended those gatherings into a false sense of security.

If you calculated your holiday coronavirus risk and decided to celebrate with people who weren’t part of your immediate household, does that mean you can use the same risk-factor calculations when planning your football viewing party? Not necessarily. In fact, all of those holiday celebrations may make parties in January and February even more risky.

“The entire country is seeing another surge of cases” after the holidays, Kalyanaraman Marcello explains. “This means that many more people in our communities, circle of friends, and families are infected, and many are unaware because they are asymptomatic.”

In other words: Just because you and your loved ones got lucky at your last holiday gathering doesn’t mean you necessarily want to press your luck again this sunday.

What if you held your party outdoors?

Let’s be realistic — early February is going to be pretty cold for much of the continental U.S. (and, for that matter, Alaska). That said, the CDC has determined that small outdoor gatherings are one way to connect with others while lowering your risk of spreading COVID-19, as long as you and your guests follow the recommended public health protocols:

It’s unrealistic to imagine that there won’t be people who decide to throw a backyard party and do a live stream of the game, especially if you invested in one of those outdoor movie theater setups as a way to keep your family entertained during quarantine. If you invite your friends to bundle up and watch this year’s big game outdoors, try to follow as many CDC-recommended risk mitigation strategies as possible — and don’t give in to the person who suggests that everyone would be a lot more comfortable if you let them indoors to watch the 4th quarter.

What’s the best way to throw a virtual watch party?

If you can’t gather in person to watch the big game, you can always do the next best thing — watch it while simultaneously texting, FaceTiming or Slacking the people who would otherwise be there in person.

In many ways, planning a virtual football watch party can be simpler than, say, trying to virtually watch a movie with your extended family or friends. Since the game airs in real time, you won’t have to download something like Teleparty or Scener to ensure that everyone’s video is synched on their preferred device. All you have to do is set up some kind of communication channel — Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Portal, Google Duo, good old-fashioned landline phones — and watch the game as it happens. Whether you are watching it on a TV, computer, or iPad, everyone can partake in the conversation while enjoying the big game.

And while talking smack or exchanging virtual high fives over Zoom should be fun in and of itself, there are a party traditions that are worth replicating, too. Take nachos. (And we will. Gladly.) Chances are, someone in your circle has a killer recipe — if not for nachos, then for some other mainstay snack. Obviously, it’s not worth risking COVID for said nachos (as much as we want to joke that it is). But maybe you can get the recipe in advance of the game, and make it at home yourself — the next best thing. (And a way to ensure you don’t get too jealous when spying the real thing on your videoconference.)

For many people, any big game watch party entails a little light gambling via squares/box pools, in which people predict the final score by choosing squares inside a 10×10 grid. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites (we like this one) where you can fill out a virtual square with your friends, and then use cashless payment services like Venmo to settle up after the final whistle. Oh, and this year, the game will air on CBS — which means that if you’re a cord-cutter who no longer gets cable network television, you might want to consider a CBS All Access free trial.

How will the coronavirus vaccine affect parties for the big game?

Although many of us were thrilled to see the announcement that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had gone into distribution — and some of us may even have received our first vaccine dose — we can’t assume that the coronavirus vaccine will make it safer to hold in-person gatherings in February.

“Only a small percentage of Americans have received the first dose of the COVID vaccine, and this is mostly healthcare workers and the very elderly,” Kalyanaraman Marcello reminds us. Since both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, spread roughly one month apart, it’s going to take a while before the majority of Americans are fully vaccinated.

It’s also worth noting that we’re not yet sure how the vaccine will affect person-to-person coronavirus transmission. “While being fully vaccinated provides 95% protection from infection, we still don’t know if being vaccinated prevents a person from transmitting the virus to others,” Kalyanaraman Marcello explains. “So it’s not yet safe for someone who is fully vaccinated to stop wearing a mask or have indoor gatherings.”

This may not be the year to gather your friends and family into a crowded living room to watch the big game — but since there are multiple ways to watch the big game online and share the experience virtually, you can still throw a party during COVID. You’ll just have to be as creative, flexible and risk-aware as you’ve been for the past year — because even though we’re closer than ever to the coronavirus goal line, there’s a reason they say not to celebrate until you’re in the end zone.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

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