Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the United States, issued a stark warning for the National Football League, which is preparing to proceed with its 2020 season in its 32 team markets.
Though plans for attending fans have not been finalized amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Fauci said on CNN that the NFL is making a mistake by not placing players and support personnel in a quarantined bubble.
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci said on the network. “If there is a second wave [of the virus], which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
Fauci in recent days has conveyed similar virus-related concern for Major League Baseball if they were to extend their season deep into this fall, though that league remains locked in a bitter labor dispute with the MLB Players Association and plans for a 2020 baseball season are still unknown.
The NFL has released its 2020 schedule, while acknowledging “adjustments” may be necessary. In the meantime, the league has implemented a phased approach for access to team facilities, and ordered that all teams remain at those facilities and not travel for training camp.
Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the league will continue to be flexible as circumstances warrant.
“Make no mistake, this is no easy task,” Sills said. “We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
Dr. Thom Mayer, medical director for the NFL Players Association, also said Fauci’s comments carried “important weight,” and like Sills cited continued moves within the sport to implement “stringent protocols and workplace safety.”
“We know that there are significant challenges to the operation of football during a global pandemic,” Mayer said. “So far, we have been guided and made decisions based on the best available science and current state of infections and hospitalizations.”
The National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Women’s National Basketball Association, and Major League Soccer have each begun to formalize plans for their respective restarts this summer using quarantined models for their players.
Though the NFL has not lost any games to date from the pandemic, the situation has created plenty of angst within the football community. Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, who will be featured this summer as part of the long-running reality television series “Hard Knocks,” said he did not understand all the required health and safety protocols.
“We’re talking about some of this stuff, and we’re playing football?,” McVay said. “I mean, we’re going to social distance, but we play football? This is really hard for me to understand all of this. I don’t want to be – I don’t get it. I really don’t.”