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Event organizers at military bases have configured events they say are within guidelines for gathering safely to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs. For viewers in Japan, kickoff is 8:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 8, 2021.
Event organizers at military bases have configured events they say are within guidelines for gathering safely to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs. For viewers in Japan, kickoff is 8:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (Theron Godbold/Stars and Stripes)

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TOKYO — At U.S. bases across Japan, planners are arranging Super Bowl viewing parties they say are safe alternatives to small, private gatherings that have sparked several coronavirus clusters since November.

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest social events in American culture, and traditionally a day to share food, drinks and camaraderie among U.S. service members and their families overseas, pandemic or no pandemic.

Event organizers at military bases have configured events they say are within guidelines for gathering safely to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs. For viewers in Japan, kickoff is 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, headquarters for U.S. Forces Japan, has scheduled events for game watchers at the USO and the officer and enlisted clubs. Yokosuka Naval Base, home of the U.S. 7th Fleet south of Tokyo, has scheduled events at five venues.

Base commanders have reason to be concerned about their people getting together. Clusters of coronavirus cases over the winter at Yokota, Yokosuka and elsewhere were traced to small gatherings like dinner parties and birthday parties, among other behaviors.

In two cases, baby showers and gender reveal parties were to blame, Command Chief Master Sgt. Richard Winegardner Jr. of U.S. Forces Japan said on American Forces Network in November.

“My guess is they didn't see that as a high potential for spread,” Winegardner added in Facebook a comment at the time.

Yokota imposes a limit of six people or two families on any gathering, but squadron commanders may permit exceptions to that rule, base spokesman Lt. Stuart Thrift said in an email Wednesday to Stars and Stripes.

Official Super Bowl parties at Yokota, like any large events on base, “are reviewed by Public Health to ensure measures are in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Raymond Magby, deputy director of the 374th Force Support Squadron, said Wednesday by email. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Multiple venues reduce crowd size at each, Magby said. He said tables are at least six feet apart and masks are required.

“Our staff will be out and about monitoring the entire event and correcting attendees if needed,” he said.

At Yokosuka, parties are scheduled at the Fleet and Benny Decker theaters, the Liberty Center, the satellite Liberty Center and the bowling center.

Each theater can seat 400 people but will have a maximum capacity of 75 on Monday, base spokesman Randall Baucom said Thursday. The bowling alley will only allow a maximum of five people per lane, every other lane.

Yokosuka’s public health policy, which was updated Thursday, states that people may gather on or off base in groups no larger than five people or two households.

“We’re hoping that by breaking up events into smaller groups that we can give people, especially our junior enlisted, the opportunity to get together and watch the game in a safe environment outside of the unaccompanied housing,” Baucom said by phone Thursday to Stars and Stripes.

Anyone choosing to view the big game at home should use caution and adhere to base policy, Col. Jason Mills, vice commander of the 374th Airlift Wing, said Wednesday in an email to Stars and Stripes.

“I encourage everyone to have a brief conversation with your coworkers, neighbors and friends around the world to determine the impact a positive COVID case has had on someone they know,” he said. “With that knowledge in hand, you should be reenergized to assist the entirety of Team Yokota through the next phase of our fight against the virus.”

earl.erica@stripes.com Twitter: @ThisEarlGirl

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