(Reuters) - Mask-wearing and social distancing will be paramount at next month's Super Bowl, top U.S. infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci said on Friday ahead of the National Football League's (NFL) championship game in Tampa, Florida.
The NFL is nearing the finish line after a season marked by schedule changes and numerous revisions to health and safety protocols due to COVID-19 but no outright cancellations.
The league now faces the task of putting on the biggest spectacle in U.S. professional sports amidst the pandemic.
A reduced crowd of 22,000 will be allowed inside the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who face the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7.
Fauci told the New York Press Club he was comfortable with the number of spectators allowed "as long as they wear masks and as long as there's physical distancing. That's the point.
"You can't have people (sitting close) now given the level of infection, but mask wearing and limited capacity seating I think is reasonable since it's an outdoor event which really, really makes a difference," he added.
Fans were barred from attending all but one stadium in Week 1, but the NFL oversaw an increasing number of teams opening their doors as the season went on, with spectators allowed to attend more than half of the games by Week 6.
NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills told reporters this week the league had not "traced any outbreaks or cluster of (COVID-19) cases to any of the places we have hosted fans".
He added that the league will be providing KN-95 standard masks to all fans attending the Super Bowl.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editingn by Ken Ferris)