When Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s leading infectious disease experts and one of the few *visible* experts associated with the current administration, speaks on the topic COVID-19 and its relationship to sports, that’s must-listen for me. It’s like what a Theo Epstein interview was for me about two months ago.
Thus, when Dr. Fauci spoke with Jack Curry of the YES Network, I watched the video here. I’m not saying I take anyone’s word anywhere as 100% gospel on this complicated topic – and I’m certainly not going to tell anyone else exactly how to feel – but when Dr. Fauci speaks, I listen. The guy embraces the science, he doesn’t bullshit, and he simply lays it out clearly and honestly.
Let’s talk about his comments on baseball first.
I don’t think anyone is expecting otherwise, but let Dr. Fauci put it very plainly: given how transmissible this virus is, he does not see *any way* you could simply pick a date in the middle of the summer right now – he mentions July 4 – and say, ‘OK, we’re starting the season like normal on that date.’ When it comes to large crowds like that, we’re going to be in this “new normal” world, as he puts it, into at least the fall and winter. (Take note, NFL and college football.)
That said, Dr. Fauci sees two ways for baseball to return that make sense to him:
(1) Players go to only a few cities, they are regularly tested, and you have them play for TV audiences only; or
(2) You limit the number of fans permitted in a stadium, and you seat them in a way that they are separated, and maybe require masks.
HOWEVER, on number two, it depends on the state of the virus, and it also depends on where in the country you’re talking about. Dr. Fauci believes option number one is more likely to play out than option two.
Note that Yankees President Randy Levine said this week that playing an entire season this year of TV-only games is “not practical,” so I guess we’ll see where the rubber meets the road. How many fan-attended games are enough for the Yankees? How many fans could you even get in the doors, and when? In any case, option one – which sounds like the hub plan, splitting the teams between Arizona, Texas, and Florida – is going to have to go first if the sport is to return. Maybe from there you could transition to fans at games, but option two is available as your starting point – in Dr. Fauci’s view – only where you’re waiting a long time for games to return, and only where things go very well in every state where games are played.
In order for Dr. Fauci, himself a baseball fan, to feel comfortable attending a game this year, he suggested the state would need to be in Phase 3 of the reopening guidelines, and the level of infection in the area would need to be so low that the capability to test, contact trace, and isolate, was already in place. Even then, there would also need to be physical distancing in place at the ballpark, as well as face masks.
Some more general info from Dr. Fauci:
From an epidemiological perspective, Dr. Fauci underscored that unfortunately, different areas of the country are truly going to have to proceed differently in the phases of “re-opening,” because the risks are different. That’s why the guidelines that came out last week operate on a state-by-state basis (obviously it’s up to the individual governors how to proceed, but the federal government is endorsing that perspective – you can’t proceed the same way at a country-wide level right now).
Although we are seeing a lot of plateauing (and maybe even slight case drops) around the country in terms of new cases, you can’t start to relax mitigation efforts – i.e., extreme social distancing – until you get past the steep drop of the curve. Think about how cases exploded exponentially on the front-end of the virus; that’s what you want to see on the back-end of the peak BEFORE you start the process of opening back up. This, to me, is helpful when read in parallel with the federal guidelines on a phased reopening of the economy, because that’s why the two-week period is in place: that’s the period, after the peak, when you should start to see a very steep drop in new cases. If you aren’t seeing that, then the mitigation procedures need to keep going on until after that steep drop has happened.
There are obvious implications for sports there, and what you might be able to do sooner rather than later – maybe even with fans – in a much-less-affected state, you wouldn’t be able to do in a place like New York City for much, much longer.
Dr. Fauci notes that we have not yet proven that the post-infection immune response means you can’t get/transmit COVID-19 thereafter, but it is very likely to be the case. The length of time of the protection, however – we just don’t know how long it is.