Coronavirus: Dr. Anthony Fauci says NFL season could be 'feasible'
Imagine an NFL star—Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady—testing positive for COVID-19 the night before his team is scheduled to play a game.
What would such a player, and potentially his teammates, need to do next?
NBC’s Peter King posed the question this weekend to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Canceling or postponing a game, Fauci said, could be required steps. Depending if one or more members of a team test positive, a two-week team quarantine may be necessary, too.
“Absolutely,” said Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It would be malpractice in medicine to put him on the field, absolutely.”
Fauci said it’s too early to predict whether NFL teams can safely commence their seasons four months from now, as scheduled. The country’s response to the disease, increased availability to testing and potential immunity from exposure all are expected to evolve between now and then.
But Fauci said the NFL must be willing not only to sideline a player who tests positive for COVID-19 but also take more drastic measures if more than one player does so.
“You got a problem there,” he said in an interview for King’s Football Morning in America column. “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.
“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 isn’t convinced the 2020 NFL season will need to be canceled or even necessarily postponed. Playing tackle football right now would be “impossible,” Fauci said—but by September, he speculates it could be “feasible” players who test negative could compete, either without fans or with a reduced number of fans attending, with at least 6 feet between them. Regular testing of players would be imperative, Fauci said, as would the production of many more rapid-response COVID-19 tests.
“Right now, it would be overwhelmingly piggish” to procure as many virus tests as the NFL would need for an uninterrupted season, Fauci said. “But by the end of August, we should have in place Antigen testing. … You could test millions of people, millions.
“Given the country we have, such a rich country, I would be very surprised if we can’t do that.”
So what will decide whether, and in what fashion, the NFL plays in September?
Fauci said the unpredictable factors hinge largely on testing availability and how prevalent COVID-19 is come fall.
“It will be entirely dependent on the effectiveness with which we as a society respond to the inevitable outbreak that will occur,” he told King. “What is going to be the effectiveness of our response?
“In my mind, shame on us if we don’t have in place all of the mechanisms to prevent it from blowing up again. In other words, enough testing to test everybody that needs to be tested. Enough testing so that when someone gets infected, you could immediately do contact tracing and isolation to prevent the infection from going to a couple of infections to hundreds of infections. That’s how you control an outbreak.”