Reduced social distancing and face mask wearing at massive soccer-related gatherings did not affect daily COVID-19 infections in Argentina
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AIMS. To determine the contribution of social distancing and face mask wearing in the prevention of COVID-19 infections in Argentina.
METHODS. Attendance to the funeral of ex-soccer star Diego Maradona was estimated by the area occupied by the mourners and their density. The people congregated to celebrate the America's Cup victory was deduced mainly from TV ratings. The proportion of individuals wearing or not face masks was calculated from photographs taken at both events. The COVID-19 epidemiological data used was released by the Argentinean Ministry of Health from March 3 rd 2020 to August 31 st 2021.
RESULTS. We estimated that Maradona's funeral was attended by approximately 250,000 mourners. On the other hand, approximately 5.084.000 followed by television the America’s cup final in Buenos Aires alone. Extrapolating to the whole country suggests that over 4 million individuals congregated in person to celebrate the victory. The percentage of individuals not wearing face masks at the funeral was 54.0% ± 5.2 % and at the soccer victory celebrations 84.5 % ± 6.9 %, both estimates with a confidence of 99%. Daily COVID-19 infections in Buenos Aires remained at less than 5,000 per day during 30 days before- as well as during 24 days following-the funeral. New infections in Argentina remained less than 21,000 during 10 days before as well as 30 days following the soccer cup celebrations.
CONCLUSIONS. Considering that SARS-CoV-2 median incubation is 5.1 days, the time periods following Maradona’s funeral and the America Soccer Cup celebrations provided ample time for COVID-19 to flare up if significant contagion would have proliferated amongst the crowds. The lack of an increase in COVID-19 infections after two independent and large gatherings with people in close proximity and limited wearing of face masks, raises questions about any beneficial effect of social distancing and of mask wearing during the pandemic.
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