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Dr. Fauci: If NFL players aren’t in a bubble, season might not happen

The NFL has a lot to figure out with its health and safety protocols to get the 2020 season started.

General overall view of Wilson 2020 NFL The Duke official football and Super Bowl Vince Lombardi trophy at the Allegiant Stadium construction site. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE 12:48 p.m.: The NFL’s chief medical officer responded to Dr. Fauci’s comments. Dr. Allen Sills said the owners and players are working with joint medical advisors on ways to mitigate the health risks. Sills said they recognize it is not an easy task and will be adaptable to the public health environment.

The 2020 NFL season appears on track to start later this summer, with the owners and players negotiating terms and conditions. They have not gotten into the economics of what no fans could mean for revenue, and MLB has shown how much of an issue that can be. However, the nature of the NFL’s revenue sharing agreement makes this a little easier in the short term.

The bigger issue could prove to be health and safety protocols. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN the league needs a bubble to ensure they can complete the 2020 season.

“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. 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.”

This comes a day removed from Broncos safety Kareem Jackson testing positive for Covid-19, and three days removed from word that Ezekiel Elliott and several other players on the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans all tested positive.

It’s hard to predict what the pandemic will look like a month from now, let alone later in the NFL season. Dr. Fauci is an expert, and there is additional context to consider. Most notably, Major League Baseball owners are pushing to get their regular season wrapped up by late September because they worry that if the playoffs extend into November, they might not be completed. A major part of the negotiation between MLB owners and players has been around what happens if the postseason is canceled.

Meanwhile, much of the NFL season runs during what could be the proverbial second wave (or an extension of the current first wave, if you will). The league’s chief medical officer told NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero, “We do not feel it’s practical or appropriate to construct a bubble.” He said the league will rely on contact tracing, education, and testing. There have been reports of up to three tests per week.