Sports may be taking a seat on the bench for the rest of the year due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to one of the nation’s preeminent experts on immunology.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that it’s still too soon for sports to come back, meaning that seasons for pro, collegiate and amateur teams could be shelved.
All major American sports leagues have been shut down in terms of athletic competition since March because of COVID-19. The NBA, NHL, MLS, NASCAR, PGA Tour, ATP and WTA all suspended their seasons, while MLB has yet to start its 2020 regular season.
In a New York Times interview, Fauci said, “I would love to be able to have all sports back. But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we're not ready for that yet."
There have been discussions of how sports could potentially resume, possibly in empty stadiums, with extensive testing and quarantining of players without their families, though Fauci said some leagues are just going to have to wave the white flag and surrender to the virus.
"Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything," Fauci said. "If you can't guarantee safety, then, unfortunately, you're going to have to bite the bullet and say, 'We may have to go without this sport for this season.’"
Fauci said that cities and states need to get the virus under control first before they should consider restarting any major sport.
“What we need to do is get it, as a country and as individual locations, under control,” he said. “That sometimes takes longer than you would like, and if we let our desire to prematurely get back to normal, we can only get ourselves right back in the same hole we were in a few weeks ago.”
As some states look to begin slowly reopening, the idea of playing without a live audience has been floated out there, something which Fauci said would have to be done cautiously to prevent a new spike in COVID-19 cases.
Fauci said workers would need to follow social distancing guidelines, wear face coverings, and adhere to basic hygiene practices to “diminish the risk” of an outbreak.
“The things we need to do to the best of our ability are try and keep the six-foot distance and wear face coverings,” he said. “And do the kind of pure hygiene things you do to prevent the spread of respiratory infections: washing hands frequently; wearing gloves, particularly food service, and they do that anyway; changing gloves frequently.”
“If you can do that, it isn’t completely free of risk, but you diminish the risk substantially,” Fauci continued. “The density of the infection in the community will dictate the degree to which you can loosen up.
According to Fauci, the key to reopening sports - and the country - is to not be overly eager and rush to the finish line, which could have adverse effects.
“I’ve said that many times," he said, "and I’m quoted as saying that the virus decides how quickly you’re going to get back to normal.
"You can try and influence the virus by your mitigation programs. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to get the virus under some sort of control before you start resuming normal activity.”
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