Governor J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that he does not see how large gatherings of people, like sporting events, can take place in Illinois before a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, which in his estimation is months away.
Pritzker: "I think everybody needs to think seriously about canceling any large summer events. I just don't, from my perspective today, I do not see how we are going to have large gatherings of people again until we have a vaccine, which is months and months away."— TinaSfon (@TinaSfon) April 9, 2020
Pritzker on gatherings: "I would not risk having large groups of people getting together, anywhere. And I think that's hard for everybody to hear. But that's just a fact." He said even with testing and tracing necessary to make changes, "it isn't enough for me to say it's OK."— TinaSfon (@TinaSfon) April 9, 2020
As the governor pointed out, that is tough for sports fans to hear, and it could point to games in empty stadiums being the only way for the Cubs and White Sox to play in Chicago this summer.
The agreement between Major League Baseball and the players' union outlined certain criteria that would need to happen for the 2020 season to resume, and those included no government edicts that would prevent teams from playing in their home ballparks, with a strong preference for games to happen with fans in the stands. Though there was a pretty important caveat that other options could be explored if that was impossible.
Per reports from earlier this week, baseball is discussing a plan that would effectively quarantine the 30 teams in Arizona, and stage games at spring training stadiums and the regular season home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That plan reportedly included a potential start date as early as next month.
While Governor Pritzker's comments might point to a poor chance that fans will get to watch games at Guaranteed Rate Field or Wrigley Field this summer, it remains uncertain whether conditions could improve enough to allow games to be played at those ballparks without fans present. Still, when taking into account the players, coaches, training staff, front office staff, stadium staff and those needed to broadcast the games on TV, even games without fans present would involve a lot of people in the same place, potentially creating health risks for those present.
Baseball's plan runs the risk of returning to action too soon, something that's already been seen in Japan, where multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 while playing practice games. The availability of widespread testing in the U.S. would seem to be a necessity, as to prevent baseball players from receiving frequent tests while the general public faced limited access. Baseball would need to make sure it was not taking much-needed resources away from treating the general population.
There are many hurdles to clear before a quarantined season in Arizona would make sense. But you can see why the league and the players are getting creative to find a return to action, as it might not be possible to do so in any way that resembles normalcy. Especially if other local, state and federal leaders share Governor Pritzker's outlook.