Dr. Anthony Fauci is the closest thing our country has to a national coronavirus czar, and on that front the most important message he has is this: no one — not he, not the President, not any state governor — will ultimately decide when and if football will begin later this year. “The virus,” he says, “will make the decision for us.”
Given that, Fauci gave an interview with NBC’s Peter King to ballpark how the game could return and what could force football to experience the same fate that basketball, hockey and baseball are dealing with right now.
For starters, time is the game’s biggest ally right now. If conditions in September are the same as they are in May, Fauci said it would be “impossible” to have a season. But, with four months to ramp up testing, he said it could be feasible to play games, and possibly play them in front of half-full stadiums.
Fauci stressed that players, coaches and staff need to be tested as often as possible, at a minimum the night before and morning of a game. A player who tests positive, Fauci says, needs to be isolated for two weeks.
A tipping point exists where one COVID-positive player may not represent a freak-out moment for a team or a league, but four would.
“You know why? Because it is likely that if four of them are positive and they’ve been hanging around together, that the other ones that are negative are really positive. So I mean, if you have one outlier [only one player testing positive], I think you might get away,” Fauci said. “But once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got a real problem. You gotta shut it down.”
Fauci also explained the mechanics of how the virus spreads from person to person in a football environment.
“Sweat does not do it,” he 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.”
Fauci said it is close to a 100 percent certainty that the virus will be here in the fall — and, really, until a vaccine arrives — and so the NFL, college football and high school organizations should plan now for how to operate around it. Read the full interview here.