As the coronavirus remains unpredictable, the NFL faces the reality of shortening the preseason, the potential of playing without fans and adjusting health requirements amongst all teams in order to prepare for the uncertainty of the pandemic. Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke with hosts Bruce Murray and Kirk Morrison on SiriusXM NFL Radio about the context of the coronavirus in the world of sports.
Before speaking to the specifics of football, Dr. Fauci began by highlighting the alarming resurgence of cases in states like California, Arizona, Florida and Texas. He explained that as cases surge in those states, other cities and states across the country are likewise seeing a resurgence of cases due to decreased social distancing as restaurants and shops have slowly begun to reopen.
“That makes [the virus] a moving target when determining how to open up other aspects of our society, including football,” Dr. Fauci said. “We are in a state of flux right now. The situation is not in control. Hopefully we are all able to get it in control as we get people to do things like wearing masks and staying physically separated. Those are very important interventions that will ultimately impact decisions that you make about opening anything, including sports.”
When the virus outbreak received national attention during February and March, many hoped that warmer months would help kill it off. But that has proven to not be true as some of the warmest states in the country, particularly southern California, Texas and Florida, are being hit the hardest right now.
With time, we can only hope that conditions improve but Dr. Fauci reminded listeners that the upcoming fall and winter, football months, will introduce the regular flu season in addition to the coronavirus.
“It’s really uncharted territory right now,” Dr. Fauci said. “We have to get as many people as we can vaccinated this fall for influenza, which could eliminate the overlap of influenza and the virus.”
Dr. Fauci urges fans to remember that the simplest and most effective action they can take to not only keep themselves safe, but help guarantee a football season in the fall, is to wear a mask. Dr. Fauci explained that anywhere from 20-45 percent of people who get infected are without any symptoms. Therefore, these people can inadvertently spread it to others who are more vulnerable.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Dr. Fauci said. “Knowing that there are so many people who are affected and don’t even know it and knowing that they can inadvertently pass the infection on to someone else, that even though you’re feeling well, you should be wearing a mask when you are outside.
“If there are games being played and there is virus in the community, I think it would be absolutely essential that we have the mandatory wearing of masks as you go in to a stadium.”
Though Dr. Fauci provides the NFL Players Association and the league itself with fact-based information, he stressed that he does not play a role in evaluating protocol. In other words, he helps to inform decisions but does not make any.
Dr. Fauci emphasized that player safety and fan safety are the most important priorities as the league plans to play a season in 2020.
“If ever there was a contact sport, it’s football certainty,” Dr. Fauci said. “You can have very frequent testing, you can test everybody when they come into camp and you can try to protect players from the insertion of the outside of people who might be infected. Then, when you start a season, what about the spectators and the fans? What kind of program are you going to put together to make sure you don’t make that a vehicle of transmission?”
As the NBA and MLB prepare a plan to play knowing that players will inevitably test positive, Dr. Fauci explained that the NFL should operate on a case by case basis.
“It depends on the particular circumstance of the level of infection in the community,” Dr. Fauci said. “Obviously, if you’re getting exponential spread, you have to be very careful about getting people together in a space where they could be transmitting.”
The virus is not only unpredictable in the way it spreads but in how people react to it. Dr. Fauci explained that different players are going to react unpredictably to the virus which makes it harder to treat.
“There are some that then get mild symptoms and recover completely,” Dr. Fauci said. “There are those that get symptoms that keep them in bed for a week and then they get over it and feel OK. There are some that get sick and then they don’t get back to normal for a significant period of time. Others requires hospitalization. You can’t guarantee that you’re not going to get a serious consequence. It’s a very perplexing infection. If it were more uniform, then you could make a good prediction.”
Dr. Fauci would not give a prediction on whether football will be played in 2020 because he said the situation is in too much flux right now. He said that, best case scenario, there is a vaccine available at the very end of this year or the beginning of 2021 that would help the world at large, and the world of sports, return to normal.