- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a White House coronavirus task force member, said widespread testing could allow the NFL season to begin on time in the fall, but if a team sees a few positive cases at once, that team would need to quarantine for two weeks — a big potential disruption to the 2020 season.

In an interview, NBC Sports’ Peter King posed a scenario where four of a team’s 53 players tested positive before a game.

“You got a problem there,” Fauci said. “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.”

The infectious disease expert said it would be “malpractice in medicine” to let a sick player onto the field.

“Sweat as such won’t transmit it,” Fauci said. “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 — as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person.”

Sports fans are seeking any signs of hope that major sports will return to action soon, including President Trump, who this weekend taped a message for a UFC broadcast congratulating the company for resuming its fights.

“We love it. We think it is important. Get the sports leagues back — let’s play,” Trump said. “You do the social distancing and whatever else you do, but we need sports. We want our sports back.”

The president has also consulted with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban about when and how to resume sporting events, which have almost entirely been suspended since March 12.

The NFL released its schedule last week with its 2020 season opener on Thursday, Sept. 10, the second week of September as it would normally be. ESPN and others reported that the schedule has some built-in mechanisms to change plans for entire weeks if need be. Every team has the same bye week as its Week 2 opponent, so Week 2 games could be rescheduled easily, and Weeks 3 and 4 contain no divisional games and wouldn’t hurt as much if they’re dropped altogether

But that doesn’t plan for the possibility that two teams are ready to square off in the middle of the season, and the night before the game one team has four or five players test positive for COVID-19 while the other has none.

On the bright side, Fauci said that by the time the NFL season is about to start, he thinks the U.S. will have the capacity to test “millions of people” — meaning the NFL hoarding tests for its players, coaches and other staff wouldn’t be dangerous for others who need them.

Even holding games with fans in the stands isn’t out of the question yet, Fauci said, but it all depends on where the pandemic and the country’s public health stands when the time comes.

“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,” Fauci said. “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 has weighed in on the future of sports in the U.S. before. He has said some sports may be able to return in 2020 to empty stadiums, but in a New York Times interview in late April, he warned some leagues “may have to go without” games if safety for players and others involved cannot be guaranteed.

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