With Americans growing increasingly desperate to see some form of organized sports on their flatscreen TVs, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a lead voice on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, offered some discouraging comments for all those hoping that America’s most popular sport is coming back in full force in fall. Football presents “the perfect set up for spreading,” says Fauci. But the infectious disease expert is also throwing fans a little hope, suggesting that it might be possible not only to have some version of a football season, but some games might even feature fans in stadiums.
In an interview with NBC’s “Football Morning in America” published Monday, Fauci told Peter King that as much as America is clamoring for football to return as scheduled, in the end, “The virus will make the decision for us.”
“Suppose you test a team of 53 players on a Saturday night and four are positive,” King asked Fauci. “Is there a level at which—”
But before King could even finish the question, Fauci interjected, “You got a problem there.”
“You know why? Because it is likely that if four of them are positive and they’ve been hanging around together, that the other ones that are negative are really positive,” the infectious disease expert explained. “So I mean, if you have one outlier [only one player testing positive], I think you might get away. But once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got a real problem. You gotta shut it down.”
What exactly does he mean by “shut it down”? “Quarantine the team,” King writes. “The next two games for that team? Cancelled or postponed. That could be life in the NFL in 2020.”
“I think it’s feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium,” Fauci told King later. “Is it guaranteed? No way … There will be virus out there and you will know your players are negative at the time they step onto the field.”
Not exactly what the football-loving nation wants to hear.
And, unlike some other sports, where the real problem would be all the fans, thus fan-less events would mostly do the trick, the close-contact nature of football makes it particularly problematic, suggested Fauci.
“This is a respiratory virus, so it’s going to be spread by shedding virus,” he said. “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.'”
Fauci also addressed the question of how many fans, if any, we might see during the season. There’s some good news there: we might be able to get some fans back in those venues at some point in the season, Fauci suggested.
“[I]f the virus is so low that even in the general community the risk is low, then I could see filling a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people could be six feet apart,” he said. “I mean, that’s something that is again feasible depending on the level of infection. I keep getting back to that: It’s going to depend. Like, right now, if you fast forward, and it is now September. The season starts. I say you can’t have a season—it’s impossible. There’s too much infection out there. It doesn’t matter what you do. But I would hope that by the time you get to September it’s not gonna be the way it is right now.”
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