DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With Super Bowl excitement building, health experts are once again pleading with football fans to skip the big parties and celebrate with household members only.

“We’ve documented the presence of some of the new variants,” said Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services. “And these are more easily transmitted… as if we didn’t have enough to worry about.”

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And yet doctors know that many will still ignore their COVID warnings. Between arguing over the commercials and the crock pot queso, the Super Bowl party in recent years has become the “every man’s” connection to sport’s biggest stage.

But non-physicians are urging caution as well.

“I didn’t go to a party, I didn’t go somewhere to put myself in jeopardy,” said CBS 11 photojournalist Sal Rios. “I’m not sure how I got it.”

But get it, he did. Rios says he had no symptoms, always wore a mask and took precautions.

He took a COVID-19 test in December almost as a fluke. The positive diagnosis was a shock — but then his condition worsened. He had to be rushed to a local hospital.

“And the scary point of it is, I’m going into the hospital, and somebody who had passed away was coming out, and a light really went on and said, ‘oh, this could be trouble here,'” said Rios.

But the trouble was just beginning. After initially appearing to recover, Rios was hospitalized a second time.

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“Basically, I collapsed in my wife’s arms, and I had no more breath. I couldn’t breathe,” said Rios, his voice full of emotion.

Health experts warn that Super Bowl parties where strangers mix unmasked could set the stage for more super spreader events — even as hospitals are still managing the rush of patients that followed post-holiday infections.

Dallas County this past week hit a new record for daily deaths to COVID-19 — including a healthy woman in her 20s.

“You certainly cannot say it’s just elderly or people in nursing homes,” said Dr. Huang. “We have had a wide range of people who have been severely impacted… and everyone needs to be taking it very serious.”

Dr. Huang says the number of new infections in the county is trending in the right direction — and everyone needs to continue taking precautions and heeding the warnings.

“It’s real,” said Rios. “It’s really scary and it can take your life.”

“The medicine they had to pump me up with — my arms were huge with fluids in it, didn’t even look like my arms, legs were so skinny I couldn’t get up and walk, they had to help me get out. And none of that is worth going to a birthday party or Super Bowl party,” he added.

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