Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs dons a mask on the sideline earlier this season.

'We expect this to get harder.' For the NFL, it's Super Bowl or bust as the pandemic rages

Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT) November 15, 2020

(CNN)The Super Bowl, the crown jewel of American sports, is scheduled for the first Sunday in February at Raymond James Stadium in Florida at a time when total US deaths from the coronavirus are projected to be nearly 400,000 -- about six times the venue's seating capacity.

"Our objective is for all teams to safely and responsibly complete the regular season within our 17-week schedule -- and have a full postseason, culminating with the Super Bowl with fans in the stands on February 7th in Tampa," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week as the league embarked on the second half of the season.
"We are committed to completing the season as scheduled."
It's a tall order, as coronavirus infections and deaths surge across the country in a fall and winter wave that Americans have expected for months. Largely praised for its stringent pandemic protocols, the NFL has reached a crucial point in its quest to become the nation's first major sport to play a full and mostly uninterrupted season during the health crisis.
"Getting to the Super Bowl, it's completely possible," said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "It really depends on both your tolerance for risk and tolerance for having cases. And if you really don't care about having too many cases, then there's really no problem, right? I do think the league has done a lot of good things to reduce risk. The question is: Is that enough? And it's going to get so much harder going forward."

'Much more work to be done'

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for coronavirus.
Last week -- in which the US shattered a daily record with more than 184,000 new cases on Friday -- the NFL reported that 15 players and 41 staff members tested positive for Covid-19 during the latest round of testing.
From August through the first week of November, about 600,000 coronavirus tests were administered, with 78 players and 140 coaches and other personnel testing positive, according to the league and the players union.
The positive tests included New England Patriots quarterback