Officials: If You're Going to Cincinnati Bengals Game, You'd Best Be COVID-19 Vaccinated and Boosted

"The transmissibility of the Omicron virus is extraordinary compared to all other variants at any time during this pandemic," says one health official.

Will all Bengals fans mask up on Saturday like health officials suggest? - Photo: Craig Weiglen
Photo: Craig Weiglen
Will all Bengals fans mask up on Saturday like health officials suggest?

Greater Cincinnati officials this week have urged caution as COVID-19 continues to rapidly spread throughout the region. Hamilton County recently hit a record high for COVID cases, and healthcare workers have been begging residents for months to mask up and get vaccinated as the highly transmissible Omicron variant takes hold of the Tri-State.

"We are now in a health crisis unlike anything we have faced since the beginning of the pandemic, not just here in Cincinnati, but across the state," Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval said Tuesday as he and Cleveland's mayor begged state officials for more COVID-19 resources.

Public health experts have repeatedly said that COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, wearing face masks, physical distancing, staying outside and washing hands are vital to "flattening the curve" and slowing the coronavirus' spread while relieving some of the strain on hospital systems and exhausted healthcare workers.

Scientific studies have shown that public masking — even when not everyone does so — can block a high percentage of coronavirus particles from spreading to others and can protect the wearer, as well. Likewise, getting one of the three COVID-19 vaccination series available in the United States greatly protects people from severe illness and likely hospitalization should they be exposed to the coronavirus, including its variants like Omicron and Delta. Adding a booster provides even more protection against serious health challenges, experts say.

But will excited football fans heed warnings about the global pandemic caused by a deadly, highly transmissible, airborne virus when the Cincinnati Bengals play their first playoff game since the 2015 season this Saturday — and here at home, to boot?

Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium has a capacity of more than 65,000 people, and most of the stadium's fan areas are outdoors, which could help diffuse the virus. But with indoor concourses and tens of thousands of fans who have different vaccination statuses and masking preferences, there still are plenty of opportunities to contract and/or spread the coronavirus, especially the Omicron variant, which experts say is twice as contagious as previous iterations.

Here is what three local officials told reporters Wednesday about going to the Bengals game or watching in a bar or other crowded location during the current COVID-19 spike:

Aftab Pureval, Cincinnati Mayor
"I'm a massive Bengals fan. I'm incredibly proud of the team's accomplishments, winning the AFC North and hosting a home game against Las Vegas. I'll be tailgating outside. While tailgating, I'll be wearing a mask. I'll be attending the game in the open air, and while attending the game, I'll be wearing a mask."
"Look, if you are vaccinated, if you are boosted, if you are wearing a mask, going to the Bengals game should be a safe activity. If you've taken the responsible precautions to do those things — getting vaccinated, getting boosted and getting a mask — then I think you should feel comfortable doing that."
If you are unvaccinated, you are putting yourself at risk and you're putting the community at risk. Over 90% of those who are hospitalized (with COVID-19) are unvaccinated. This is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and the stress that is being put on our local hospitals is due to those communities that are currently unvaccinated."
"Let me just say this directly: if you are unvaccinated, if you are not boosted, it is not a good idea to be congregating in large groups inside. It's just not. If you're unvaccinated, you are posing a risk to yourself and to others, particularly if you are unmasked and indoors and in large groups."

Deborah Hayes, President and CEO, The Christ Hospital
"I think if you are fully vaccinated and boosted, going to that game is perfectly fine. But I would encourage everyone regardless of your vaccination status to wear a mask at any time when you are in public, certainly if you are inside in closed spaces, and try and maintain social distancing."
"The transmissibility of the Omicron virus is extraordinary compared to all other variants at any time during this pandemic."
"There are people who have been vaccinated and are boosted, and they are COVID positive now, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that you can get the virus even through you are fully vaccinated and boosted. Now, that percentage is very, very small in comparison to unvaccinated, or to vaccinated and not boosted. But the reality is this virus is incredibly transmissible."
"I am a huge Bengals fan. I would hope that everybody at the stadium Saturday evening has a mask on in support of this city and in support of each other."

Greg Kesterman, Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner
"I've been saying for a long time, I think people need to make some personal assessments on what is safe for their family. If your entire family has been vaccinated and boosted, I think you can potentially go to this game safely. "
"When I am in crowded settings right now, I am wearing both a surgical mask as well as my cloth mask. I feel like that gives me a little additional protection. When I'm outside and away from people, I don't wear a mask if I'm out by myself, but once I come back into contact with people, I put back on that mask to help protect myself."
"So if you're planning on going to the stadium or to the bar, I'd recommend you mask up. I'd recommend after you take a drink of your beer, you put back on your mask. It's really a small ask that we are making right now because we know it can make a difference."

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