By Peter Gleason
The NFL released its schedule last Thursday, and the question is:
Is it real or pandemic-induced pie in the sky?
NBC Sports Peter King interviewed gold standard federal pandemic expert Anthony Fauci by phone Saturday night:
“I think it’s feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium,” Fauci said. “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. You’re not endangering . . . Also, if 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. 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.”
The biggest factor on the NFL’s side might be this: We’re going to be smarter about everything related to the disease in three months, when teams hope to gather for some sort of team training. Think of where we were two months ago today. On March 11, we were still dining out, still shaking hands, still driving to and from work. Three months from now, on Aug. 11, we really don’t know where we’ll be, because three months is an eternity in the race to conquer this virus.
Take testing, for example.
Is it reasonable by mid- to late-August?
“That’s a great question,” he said. “Right now, it would be overwhelmingly piggish. But by the end of August, we should have in place Antigen testings . . . You could test millions of people, millions of people. But again, we have to make sure that the companies that are doing these tests actually produce them. Which given the country that we have, such a rich country, I would be very surprised if we can’t do that.”
“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.”