A Mid Coast Hospital doctor who got a free trip to the Super Bowl recounted his experience attending the nation’s biggest sporting event of the year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After a year of not being in crowds, it was different to be in a stadium full of 25,000 people,” Dr. Patrick Keaney, a pulmonary physician, said.

Keaney was one of four Maine health care workers randomly selected by Maine Gov. Janet Mills from a pool of 21 applicants to travel to Tampa, Florida on Sunday with tickets to Super Bowl LV.

Dr. Patrick Keaney and the other three Maine health care workers at Super Bowl LV (left to right: Patrick Keaney, Cathy Bean, Joe Looper and Lisa Ireland) Courtesy of Dr. Patrick Keaney

The trip was a gift from the family of New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft.

To meet coronavirus protocols, the NFL capped the crowd at under 25,000 inside Raymond James Stadium, which normally holds some 66,000 fans, and required masks. Within the crowd were 7,500 invited health care workers, the Associated Press reported.

Keaney said he sat with the three other selected health care workers from Maine and was surrounded by cardboard cut-outs of fans.

Keaney said that, despite the number of people, the event did feel safe, and outside of eating or drinking, “pretty much everyone had masks on at all times.”

According to the AP, it was a different story outside the stadium, as fans, many without masks, celebrated Tampa Bay’s 31-9 victory over Kansas City in the streets, in sports bars and at parties.

“This isn’t how we should be celebrating the Super Bowl,” the mayor of nearby St. Petersburg, Florida, Rick Kriseman, tweeted after a maskless party was hosted by Rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in a hangar at the city’s airport, not far from where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the title.

“It’s not safe or smart. It’s stupid. We’re going to take a very close look at this, and it may end up costing someone a lot more than 50 cent,” Kriseman said.

Keaney said that he believes the main purpose of the health care workers’ trip was to increase “attention, not just to the pandemic, but the need to get vaccinated.”

Keaney is the Senior Medical Director of Inpatient Services, a position that put him “square in the middle” of managing the COVID-19 outbreak.

Keaney was rooting for Tampa Bay but says he identifies as a “long-suffering Washington Football Team fan.” Keaney grew up in Washington D.C. but now lives in Yarmouth and has been working at Mid Coast Hospital for 15 years.

Since moving to Massachusetts for medical training in 2000, however, (the same year former New England quarterback Tom Brady joined the Patriots) he has followed the Patriots and Brady as his AFC team.

Dr. Patrick Keaney preparing to board the New England Patriots plane at Logan Airport.  Courtesy of Dr. Patrick Keaney

From there, Keaney and the rest of the health care workers were brought to an exclusive Miley Cyrus concert, which he said was “surprisingly, really enjoyable.”

“I think part of it was being outside, it was sunny, it was 70 and you kind of realize how much you missed those sorts of events where you can be in a group of people,” he said.

“You kind of feel guilty being able to go on this trip when there’s so many other people that have been impacted by the pandemic,” Keaney said. “I was certainly thrilled and excited to go, but you also feel that there’s many other people that are just as worthy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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