Dr. Fauci: NFL Team Would Need to 'Shut It Down' Given Positive Player Tests

Jordan Cohn
May 11, 2020 - 12:01 pm

Early last week, Peter King of NBC Sports dropped an ominous remark during an interview on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh.

"Something bad is going to happen to a team that nobody expects."

What that 'bad' thing is was left up to our interpretation, though King offered some possibilities, the worst of which was the hypothetical regarding what would happen if a player, or players, on a team tested positive for coronavirus. If five tests on a team came back with positive results, King proposed, he thought that either the individual players would need to quarantine for two weeks or that the entire team would need to quarantine for the next two weeks. While neither route is particularly ideal, the second option would be a lot worse for a smooth-sailing season.

Based on King's interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, which he shared in his Football Morning in America column on Monday, it seems that the latter option would be the much more realistic path to take.

"You got a problem there," Fauci said, responding to King's hypothetical in which four players (not five, as in his previous hypothetical) tested positive. "... 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... you gotta shut it down."

King explained that "shutting it down" would mean quarantining the entire team for 14 days, thus making them incapable of playing their next two games. Would the games be canceled? Postponed? Forfeited? That's something that we simply can't answer right now, as it wasn't one of the clear-cut contingencies added to the schedule, as far as we know.

While just one positive test is something that Fauci figures the team could get away with, so long as continual testing proved that the case was an isolated one, any more than that would mean that multiple players likely could have caught the sickness. If there are four positive tests, for instance, Fauci figures that even those who test negative will eventually show up positive due to repeated exposure.

This is why continual testing is so vital and gives the NFL more hope than other leagues looking to start in the spring or in the summer. King mentioned that Fauci thinks that "the NFL has time on its side", as the virus could decrease significantly throughout the summer, testing should be much more accessible by August or September, and the world will have had more time to research and prepare for the disease by the projected starting point of the football season.

The rest of King's interview with Fauci fluctuated between optimism and pessimism. The nation's foremost expert on coronavirus mentioned, on the one hand, that by August, we should be able to test "millions of people" and that he'd be "very surprised" if the US isn't able to pull that off given all the research and money committed to this virus. However, he says that there's "no doubt the virus is going to return" if it dwindles away over the summer and that the physical contact required in football represents the "perfect set up for spreading."

All in all, the combination of hope and doubt for the future resulted in something that we've grown quite used to by now: the unknown.

"As for the football season and what the fall is going to be: It will be entirely dependent on the effectiveness with which we as a society respond to the inevitable outbreak," Fauci said in summation of all the factors. "...What I'm really saying is it's unpredictable depending upon how we respond in the fall."

Like the prospects of returning to so many other leagues, the problem is larger than just sports. The whole world needs to be on the right track before we can realistically wish for any progress in something as relatively frivolous as our beloved world of sports.

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