Fauci: Unless we place players in a "bubble," it's hard to see how we'll have football this year

Fauci: Unless we place players in a "bubble," it's hard to see how we'll have football this year

I said my piece about this back in March. But yeah, needless to say, it’s difficult to imagine how a sport with as much close physical contact as football will escape mass infections among players unless the teams *and* all support staff are kept in quarantine throughout the season. If you placed the entire players’ union in isolation, that’s around 2,500 people to start. Figure another 1,000 or more collectively among refs, trainers, doctors, locker-room personnel, security, and so on, just to make the games run.

And their families too, of course, unless you expect the players to isolate themselves separately for six months from the start of training camp until the Super Bowl. Thousands of people, all walled off from their loved ones, and not a single person can break the rules and sneak out for some social activity without placing the entire season at risk.

Imagine if they actually did it. Seventeen weeks of the regular season followed by several weeks of the playoffs with not a single infection throughout the league. And then, the week before the Super Bowl, one of the conference champions has an outbreak.

They should just bag it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, “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.”

On Monday, several Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans players tested positive for the coronavirus, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. None of the players were in the teams’ facilities, and both teams followed proper health protocols, per the report.

“Scary” is how one NFL coach described the news that several Cowboys and Texans players had been infected. If it’s scary during the off-season, when the players aren’t around each other every day, what’ll it be like in September?

I’m thinking of ways the league might “postpone” the season instead of canceling it altogether, which could placate fans. What if they announced they’d start it in March of next year, say, instead of this fall? We might have a vaccine by then. But how would that work logistically? They’d play four months, into the summer, and then … what? Hit the field again in September for the start of the 2021 season? The sport’s too physically punishing for that.

There are three ways realistically that they might play this fall. One: The league figures out a way to reengineer the uniforms so that players aren’t breathing on each other. But that’s silly. There’s no way to— [record scratch]

Hmmm! Would they be able to breathe in those things, though? And what about the locker room? The mask/helmets might prevent transmission from one team to the other on the field but it’s not going to stop players from the same team from infecting each other when they socialize. What happens to the season if half the roster of a single team ends up on the DL due to COVID-19?

Two: Antibody therapies. There are drugs being tested right now which, if successful, would function as a sort of temporary stopgap vaccine until the real thing is ready. Eli Lilly and Regeneron are working on those as I write this. And guess what? They could be ready by fall. Lilly’s chief scientist recently said of the company’s clinical trials, “If in August or September we’re seeing the people who got treated are not progressing to hospitalization, that would be powerful data and could lead to emergency use authorization. So that puts you in the fall time: September, October, November is not unreasonable.” The NFL could delay the season until, say, November and hope that the antibody treatments arrive soonish *and* turn out to work as a prophylaxis against infection.

Three: The vaccine arrives early. Trump is already trying to make that happen for his own electoral reasons, with scientists understandably worried that he might try to rush a product to market that isn’t ready for primetime just so that he can claim a big win before Americans vote.

In a meeting last month with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — who is overseeing the effort called Operation Warp Speed, along with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper — Trump pushed Azar repeatedly to speed up the already unprecedented timeline, according to two senior White House officials familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Trump wants some people to be able to get the vaccine sooner than the end of the year to demonstrate an end to the pandemic is within reach, according to those officials and two others…

Some go so far as to raise concerns about an “October surprise” in which the administration issues an emergency authorization for a vaccine right before the Nov. 3 election, regardless of whether the research justifies it.

“What worries me is we are coming up to an election, and the administration might be tempted to put its hand into the Warp Speed bucket, and say, ‘We have enough information, let’s just give it now,’ ” said Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who is an adviser to the National Institutes of Health effort on vaccines.

Imagine a Rose Garden event in late October when Trump personally administers the new vaccine to Tom Brady and tells him to go out and play ball. He might win 40 states.

And then he’d need to use the lame-duck period to do damage control after Brady comes down with COVID-19 because the vaccine was garbage rushed out by the FDA to give Trump the electoral talking point he wanted.

In lieu of an exit question, go read Becket Adams on Fauci complaining elsewhere this week about an “anti-science bias” among some Americans. I think I know why, says Adams.

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David Strom 12:31 PM on November 29, 2023
Jazz Shaw 12:01 PM on November 29, 2023