Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The National Football League will invite 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers to be among the total of 22,000 live fans in the stands at February's Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay, Fla., NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday.
"These dedicated healthcare workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude," Goodell said in a statement. "We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings."
Most of invited healthcare workers will be selected from around the Tampa, Fla., area where the Feb. 7 game will take place at Raymond James Stadium. But all 32 NFL clubs will be able to send vaccinated healthcare workers from their communities. Workers will have received both of their COVID-19 vaccinations by game day. Selected workers will receive free Super Bowl tickets and "game day experiences" directly from the NFL, the league said.
The NFL has planned the Super Bowl in cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health, along with area hospitals and healthcare systems, the league said Friday.
"Our local healthcare workers have worked around the clock to ensure the health and safety of our community and I cannot think of a better way to honor them than with the eyes of the world on our hometown for Super Bowl LV," Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement. "Our country has endured so much over the last year and we can't lose sight of those who worked day in and day out to keep us safe. Thank you to the NFL for helping make this happen." The NFL has had a low rate of COVID-19 infection, with 262 players and 460 other personnel confirmed as positive cases between Aug. 1 and Jan. 16, the league said. The 2020-21 season had schedule changes and opt-outs as the league made public health adjustments for the virus.
In December, Goodell said that NFL players would not jump the line ahead of healthcare workers and first responders to be vaccinated for the Super Bowl.
Masks will be distributed to the fans on game day.
"We're providing every fan whether vaccinated or non-vaccinated and every staff member with a KN-95 mask -- which is a really effective mask -- and they will be required to be worn during the game so that compliance is really, really important," Peter O'Reilly, the NFL executive vice president told CBS Sports.
The final teams to play the Super Bowl have not yet been determined. The winner of the National Football Conference, either the Green Bay Packers or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will face off against the winners of the American Football Conference, the Buffalo Bills or the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.
If the Tampa Bay team wins, they will be the first team to play a Super Bowl game in their home stadium.