Will there be NFL games in 2020? Will fans be allowed in the stadium? What are the chances for a full 16-game season and playoffs?
The simple answer: It’s too early to say.
That’s the word from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Insitute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Fauci spoke with Peter King of NBC Sports for this week’s Football Morning in America and said he can envision a scenario where NFL games are played but it depends largely on the amount of testing available this summer and fall and, in general, the effectiveness the country counters the coronavirus that's wiped out sports over the last two months.
Fauci said a contact sport like football would be a breeding ground for the spread of the virus, so the league will have to take drastic measures to make sure nobody who's positive is on the field.
If people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that’s the perfect set up for spreading,” Fauci told King. “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.’
Fauci said even testing before games wouldn’t be an infallible method of keeping games safe.
“To be 100 percent sure, you’ve got to test every day,” he said. “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.”
Fauci didn’t rule out playing games with a limited number of fans being allowed into the stadiums and remaining six feet apart, and he didn’t rule out playing games in empty stadiums. He also didn’t rule out the possibility that if a significant number of players from a specific team test positive on a Sunday morning that team wouldn’t be able to play.
It will be entirely dependent on the effectiveness with which we as a society respond to the inevitable outbreak that will occur (in the fall),” Fauci said. “So what are the options? If we let it just go, and we don’t have a good response, you can have an outbreak somewhat similar. Probably not as bad, because we got hit really with a 1-2 punch, particularly in New York City and New Orleans and Chicago. But we can expect an outbreak that would be serious. That’s if we do nothing. So it’s inconceivable that we would do nothing.
Fauci said he expects the virus to wane during the summer and then return in the fall, although to what extent depends largely on testing. That could complicate matters for the NFL.
Even if the virus goes down dramatically in June and July and August, as the virus starts returning in the fall, it would be in my mind, shame on us if we don’t have in place all of the mechanisms to prevent it from blowing up again,” he said. “In other words, enough testing to test everybody that needs to be tested. Enough testing so that when someone gets infected, you could immediately do contact tracing and isolation to prevent the infection from going to a couple of infections to hundreds of infections. That’s how you control an outbreak. So practically speaking, the success or failure, the ability or not, to actually have a football season is going to depend on … how we respond in the fall.
It's hard to imagine a fall without Eagles football. But a lot is going to have to happen over the next few months to make sure that happens.
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