Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, offered a path for live sports to return during the summer and the fall, even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci said during an interview with Snapchat’s Peter Hamby as part of an interview series on the platform’s Good Luck America. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled … but have them tested every week. Make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”
Fauci’s comments come as Major League Baseball is reportedly considering plans on how it could begin its 2020 season.
One plan would realign the 30 teams and allow them to play games at their spring training sites, which would minimize travel and presumably lower the risk of transmitting the virus. Another plan would have teams play the season at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, the 10 spring training ballparks in the Phoenix area, and other local ballparks, while remaining isolated. On Tuesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said the state would be willing to host teams when conditions allow.
In both scenarios, no fans would be permitted in the stadiums to watch the games, which Fauci said would be necessary to limit the spread of the virus. Large gatherings are banned in most states, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people avoid group gatherings.
“People say, ‘You can’t play without spectators.’ Well, I think you probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game,” Fauci said.
It doesn’t seem as though fans are ready to brave crowded stadiums, even if rules were relaxed. According to a recent poll by Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business, 61% of sports fans and 72% of all respondents said they wouldn’t attend a sporting event until a coronavirus vaccine has been developed. That likely won’t happen until next year at the earliest.
The NFL is proceeding as though the season will be played as scheduled, though offseason training will be completely virtual and the NFL Draft will be completely remote. Dr. Allan Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said last week that widespread testing would need to be available before the NFL could contemplate reopening.
“As long as we’re still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport,” Sills said. “Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that leading sports figures — including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred — will be part of a panel that advises the government on how to reopen the country. Fauci, a diehard baseball fan, is among those hoping it can be sooner rather than later.
“We have the world champion Washington Nationals," Fauci said. "I want to see them play again.”