(CN) — With the Super Bowl Sunday just 11 days away, Los Angeles city and county officials on Wednesday urged fans attending the game to wear masks.
"Right now, we have an extraordinarily high rate of transmission," said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a press conference. "So this is a time to keep your masks on."
"Masking is a modest requirement that works," added LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell.
They were joined by two other officials: James Butts, the mayor of Inglewood, where the Super Bowl is being played, and Eric Garcetti, the mayor of neighboring Los Angeles. Garcetti has been the subject of some controversy, after he was photographed, along with Governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, at last Sunday's NFC Championship game without a face covering.
Asked about the brouhaha, which received heavy play on right-wing media outlets like Fox News, Garcetti was dismissive, saying he only took his mask off for the photographs.
"I think we should focus on what’s real," said Garcetti, who contracted Covid in November while in Scotland. "I wore my mask the entire game. When people ask for a photograph, I hold my breath. There’s a zero percent chance of infection from that."
When pressed by another reporter on the issue, Garcetti said, "If it makes you and everybody else happy, even in the photographs where I’m holding my breath literally for two seconds, I won’t even do that. But I think people do have a good common sense."
On Monday, the day after the NFC championship game, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger called for a "reevaluation" of LA County's masking policy, which mandates mask wearing at most indoor venues as well as large events held outdoors.
"Let’s do away with blanket COVID-19 masking policies — they don’t make a difference when they’re not consistently followed or enforced," she said in a statement. "We need to trust the public to make the best personal decisions for themselves based on their unique risks and circumstances.“
Mitchell, her colleague on the board, responded at the press conference: "I’m not sure what motivated Supervisor Barger to make her public statement yesterday. I stand by the director of our public health department. I’m encouraging everyone attending the game to wear a mask."
Still, there appeared to be a tension with what officials were asking from the public: strict adherence to the mask mandate, but also some degree of common sense.
"There’s this thing called personal responsibility," said Butts. "You can’t force everyone to wear a mask all the time."
Further muddling the debate is venue itself. SoFi stadium, which cost around $5 billion to build and which opened only 16 months ago, is a quasi-outdoor stadium, with a glass roof that appears to drape over the stadium, covering the top but not all of the sides.
The Omicron surge shows signs of abating in Los Angeles County, with 15,000 confirmed Covid cases reported on Wednesday, though there were more than 100 deaths from Covid also reported.
Garcetti and Newsom were far from the only attendees shown maskless at Sunday's game. Photographs and video footage of the audience showed the vast majority without face coverings.
Tickets for the Super Bowl, which pits the hometown Rams against the Cincinnati Bengals, can be bought on sites like StubHub for $5,000 at the low end and $18,000 at the high end. Attendees will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test before entering the stadium.
Every seat will have a KN95 mask waiting on it, according to John Barker, head of live event operations for the NFL. Fans will be asked to wear face coverings both inside the stadium and while tailgating outside in the parking lot, when not "actively eating or drinking. Stadium employees will be patrolling the aisles holding signs that read, "Please wear your mask," and according to Barker will wave them at maskless fans.
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