WACO, Texas — After watching COVID-19 numbers drop across the board over the last two weeks, McLennan County health officials fear watch parties for the big game Sunday night could lead to a spike in positive cases during the coming weeks.
Over the past week, the hospitalization rate in McLennan County dropped below 15% for the first time in weeks. Waco-McLennan County Health District spokesperson Kelly Craine says the area is finally recovering from the spike caused by family gatherings over Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"We're seeing a smaller number of cases and smaller number of hospitilizations, and that is so important," Craine said.
But, with more people set to gather around TV sets in homes and sports bars across Central Texas this weekend, another spike could be on the way.
"The game lasts a long time," Craine said. "We're talking about pregame, you watch the game, you stay after. There really isn't a better venue."
The potential for an outbreak places added pressure on local sports bars, who are in major need of revenue to counteract losses caused by pandemic-related regulations.
Big games mean big money.
"It'll make your week when you have games on," James Hayes, general manager of the Salty Dog Bar and Grill said. "When the Cowboys play, that makes a big dent in the week. When Baylor plays, just having people here makes a big difference."
However, Hayes and other managers will likely have their hands full maintaining health and safety regulations while managing a packed house.
Currently, the Salty Dog has closed every other table and sectioned off spots at the bar. They require masks for customers who are not eating. Once their limited capacity is filled, they are asking people to wait outside for seating to become available.
"We want to try to make things as safe as possible for everybody including our staff," Hayes said.
Those opting not to go out to a bar or restaurant this weekend could still be at risk. Craine said one of the main causes of the spike over the holidays was family gatherings inside of homes. She warns that a small get-together with a group of friends can be just as risky as heading out.
"It doesn't have to be a large group," Craine said. "It could just be four people that could easily spread the virus, so you have to think about this before you plan your party."
If you do plan to have people over, Craine suggests finding ways to space out in the house and limiting high-contact areas, even if that means getting rid of the massive spread of finger foods you have planned.
As always, you can help stop the spread by following the basic guidelines: social distance, wash your hands and wear a mask.