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Fauci, NFL differ on approaches to COVID-19 prevention

NFLAs Dr. Anthony Fauci warns that fall football will be a complicated undertaking in terms of player safety and COVID-19 prevention, NFL officials say it won’t be necessary to create a “bubble” around players.

Speaking with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN this morning, Fauci–director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, warned that a fall football season for both the pros and college players could be in jeopardy unless they are essentially placed in a “bubble” with limited interaction with the rest of the world.

“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,” he said. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

His comments came on the heels of reports of several Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys players testing positive for COVID-19, despite following social-distancing protocols. Following those protocols should be enough for the NFL to avoid similar outbreaks this fall, according to a statement from Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer issued to CNN:

“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches and other essential personnel.

“We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem,” saying the plans were based on the collective guidance of public health officials as well as other sports leagues.

“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.”

The discussion of COVID-19 prevention is a hard one to have right now: we’re still learning much about how the coronavirus is transmitted and who is most susceptible. Plus, the NFL and NCAA football programs need to address COVID-19 prevention on two levels: one approach for players and coaches, and one approach for fans attending games.

At its best, the college-football experience is a shared one, beginning with the morning tailgating and then the actual game experience, all in elbow-to-elbow circumstances with plenty of queues and crowding. But that sort of intimate experience is what we’re trying to avoid when it comes to mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. So far we know college football programs are working on mitigation plans; how USC plans on addressing the issue at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is one we’ll likely see adopted across NCAA programs.

First, you can say goodbye to crowded parking lots crammed with tailgaters. At USC, you won’t see tailgating go away, but it will be limited and set up with plenty of space between cars and trailers. The Trojan Walk and band walk may go away as well.

Second, there will significantly decreased capacity at the Coliseum–decreased to the point where season-ticket holders might not receive a full allotment, and some may find their seat locations have moved from assignments in previous years. The football capacity at the Coliseum is now 77,500, but the specific COVID-era capacity still needs to be finalized. Technically, sporting events have not yet been cleared by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Third, masks will be required for the entire game; no heading to seats and then tearing off the mask. While the chances of contracting the COVID-19 virus is lessened due to a outdoor location, it then rises if fans are singing and yelling without a mask.

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