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Dr. Fauci thinks broad access to testing key to return of sports

Sports leagues are pushing to return, but without broad testing, we might be left waiting. We break down the latest from noted infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, participates in the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the noted infectious disease expert, has been all around the media discussing the Covid-19 pandemic, and the best practices to bring it under control. Recently, he sat down with the New York Times to speak specifically to the eventual return of sports.

Dr. Fauci has been fairly conservative in offering any insight into what the future holds. As he has repeatedly said, the virus will dictate when normal life can return in any capacity. He emphasized in this interview that safety will be the most important issue.

“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,” he said. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.’”

He didn’t specifically say broad testing is a requirement, but it’s easy to infer as much from his words.

“I hope when we get to that point, when we’re going to try and get the sports figures tested, then we will have enough tests so that anybody who needs a test can get a test.”
“We’ve got to make sure that when we try to get back to normal, including being able to play baseball in the summer and football in the fall and basketball in the winter, that when we do come back to some form of normality, we do it gradually and carefully. And when cases do start to rebound — which they will, no doubt — that we have the capability of identifying, isolating and contact tracing.”

We’ve heard numerous reports about how different leagues are looking to return. There is talk of bringing teams to a neutral location and treating it almost like a biodome type of atmosphere. There is talk of adjusting leagues to limit travel while maintaining home site options. The list goes on as professional sports leagues try to figure out how best to get play going again.

When we see reports about a given league’s potential plan for returning, the issue of testing is mentioned, but often feels like an afterthought. In a recent report on MLB’s latest idea, it’s one sentence and not much else. There is only so much analysis to be done, but it seems to be a deal-breaker before any of these plans can be implemented.

Dr. Fauci wouldn’t give a specific date, but did acknowledge that testing is rapidly scaling up over the next weeks and months. The NFL is in the best position given that the regular season is not currently scheduled to start until September. On the other hand, the NBA and NHL have to figure things out sooner given the need to end their current season and begin the next. MLB would be underway at this point, with the WNBA following in May, so there is a little bit more time to get that sorted out. But for both, early summer is when the pressure kicks into higher gear.

States are developing plans to begin re-opening in the coming months, with some states already easing restrictions. The states already easing restrictions will be critical to track over the next four to eight weeks to see if there is a rise in cases, and what happens next. That will further shape the timeline on an eventual return for sports leagues.