Back on Super Bowl Sunday, February 2, which at this point seems like ages ago and an alternate reality away, few Americans would have imagined that just a couple months later the United States would become the global epicenter for COVID-19 infections and deaths — now fast closing in on 600,000 confirmed cases. Few would have anticipated nearly the entire national economy on “pause” with no clear end in sight.
However, the Wall Street Journaldetails how the University of California San Francisco’s Covid-19 command center swung into action on that very day, at a moment the 49ers were blowing their ten-point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter, as Bay Area doctors prepared to respond to the city’s first cases of coronavirus, among the earliest in the nation.
On the morning following the 49ers devastating 30 to 21 loss, the first two patients confirmed with the virus were taken to UCSF’s hospital. Should the 49ers have held on to the win, the party of the century would have exploded in the streets.
“There could have been hundreds of thousands of fans on the streets of San Francisco at a Super Bowl parade a few days later,” the WSJ writes. However, the gut-wrenching loss for local fans may have in reality been a godsend, given as WSJ continues:
Some experts who have studied the Bay Area’s containment of the virus have reached a surprising conclusion about these simultaneous events of Super Bowl Sunday: San Francisco likely won when the 49ers lost.
The WSJ report recalls both the September 1918 Philadelphia WWI parade at a moment the deadly Spanish Flu was about to be unleashed on the city – killing at least 4,500 within a mere week of the 200,000 strong parade – as well as the much more recent Mardis Gras festivities which is believed to be the main cause in sending New Orleans case numbers soaring as the southern US epicenter.
The chair of UCSF’s department of medicine, Dr. Bob Wachter emphasized that despite that it will likely “go down in the annals as being a brutal sports loss,” it remains that it is “one that may have saved lives”.
“It is certainly hard to imagine a more high-risk situation,” the head of UCSF’s Covid-19 command center, Dr. Niraj Sehgal, told the Journal.
Little did sports fans or the city more broadly know that at that very moment the area’s first cases were popping up, also at a moment national numbers were still very low and in the earliest stage.
“There were only a handful of known U.S. patients with the virus on Super Bowl Sunday, but Santa Clara County reported its second case that morning, and neighboring San Benito County later that day confirmed person-to-person transmission of the virus between a man who’d recently traveled to Wuhan, China and his wife,” the WSJ underscores.
There’s speculation that had the 49ers won that day, possibly up to 2 million people would have packed the streets, bars, and public venues. “A Super Bowl victory parade may have done what Mardi Gras seems to have done in New Orleans,” one sports writer said.
The potential for disaster was there. A super bowl win for the city would no doubt have brought “together hundreds of thousands — and potentially millions — of screaming, hugging and beer-sharing fans on crowded streets… ideal breeding grounds for respiratory illnesses. And the timing of this Super Bowl parade could’ve made it a super-spreading event.”
“It made us all feel a bit better about the 49ers’ loss,” Dr. Bob Wachter concluded.