He’s been called “America’s Doctor” during the Covid-19 crisis, and he was also a basketball player in his youth. He’s also discussed his fandom of the Washington Nationals. So when Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks on the potential return of sports, he does so with knowledge of both sides of the issue.
In an interview with NBC Sports NFL writer Peter King, he expanded on his thoughts about an upcoming 2020 NFL season.
“I think it’s feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium,” Fauci said. “Is it guaranteed? No way . . . There will be virus out there and you will know your players are negative at the time they step onto the field. You’re not endangering . . . Also, if the virus is so low that even in the general community the risk is low, then I could see filling a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people could be six feet apart. I mean, that’s something that is again feasible depending on the level of infection. I keep getting back to that: It’s going to depend. Like, right now, if you fast forward, and it is now September. The season starts. I say you can’t have a season—it’s impossible. There’s too much infection out there. It doesn’t matter what you do. But I would hope that by the time you get to September it’s not gonna be the way it is right now.”
Fauci also discussed the possible transmission of the virus from player-to-player in a game situation. While players sweating on each other would still be safe, there are plenty of other ways to pass the coronavirus between people in the context of our most physical sport. “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,” he said.
The point Fauci repeatedly emphasized is that an increase in testing will be needed to begin to begin to think about football. When King mentioned he thought 200,000 tests would be needed to have NFL players and essential personnel return, Fauci said doing so at this point would be “piggish”, but by August or September an increase in testing capacity as well as Antigen testing could make that feasible.
As with most things related to Covid-19, it’s a fluid situation where there are no definites. But as with the restart of sports leagues everywhere, the continued expansion of testing as well as data on the ground will likely decide whether when and if the NFL has a 2020 season.