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Dr. Anthony Fauci: Football “the perfect set up for spreading”

After the NFL heard concerns from California governor Gavin Newsom, Mike Florio explains how the 49ers, Chargers and Rams can all play their "home" games in other stadiums.

When California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed some skepticism about the return of sports as we know it, in a stadium full of fans, he asked what happened to players when one tests positive — do you shut down the entire offensive line if it’s a lineman, or the entire defensive line because of their proximity?

The guy who understands this stuff better than anyone explained how quickly the coronavirus can move from person to person on a football field — an environment not given to social distancing.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told Peter King of NBC’s Football Morning in America that widespread testing of players would be the first step, and the obvious acknowledgement that any player who tests positive has to be quarantined because of how rapidly it would spread in an athletic environment.

“Sweat does not do it,” Fauci said. “This is a respiratory virus, so it’s going to be spread by shedding virus. The problem with virus shedding is that if I have it in my nasal pharynx, and it sheds and I wipe my hand against my nose—now it’s on my hand. You see, then I touch my chest or my thigh, then it’s on my chest or my thigh for at least a few hours. Sweat as such won’t transmit it. But if people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that’s the perfect set up for spreading. I would think that if there is an infected football player on the field—a middle linebacker, a tackle, whoever it is it—as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person.

“If you really want to be in a situation where you want to be absolutely certain, you’d test all the players before the game. And you say, Those who are infected: Sorry, you’re sidelined. Those who are free: Get in there and play.”

That’s going to require so many tests that imagining it now would either be sheer folly or greedy on the part of a sports league. But Fauci hopes that the coming months bring increased access to tests. He’s also in modified quarantine after contact with a person who tested positive at the White House, where staffers are tested daily, showing how quickly things can change.

“If I test today, and I’m negative, you don’t know if I got exposed tomorrow,” Fauci said. “There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get exposed and be positive the next day. To give you an example, you’re probably reading in the newspapers that there’s an infection in the White House. I was exposed to that person. So I immediately got tested. I am negative. So, I’m negative yesterday. I don’t know if I’m going to be negative Monday. Understand? It’s almost an impossible situation.

“To be 100 percent sure, you’ve got to test every day. But that’s not practical and that’s never going to happen. But you can diminish dramatically by testing everybody Saturday night, Sunday morning, and say OK, only negative players play.”

That creates a number of questions for football teams in the context of the game alone, as they’ll have to be cognizant of depth and have backups ready to go at a moment’s notice — because that’s how quickly a game plan can change with one positive test.