Millions are missing the thrill of sports these days, but being able to catch a game in person might not be in the cards for a while. The fast transmission of the novel coronavirus coupled with a lack of vaccine could likely keep fans out of sports stadiums until next year, doctors say.
Health experts are at the forefront of the pandemic in not only treating COVID-19 patients but consulting with federal and local governments to determine the appropriate course of action against the virus. In the world of sports, experts are torn with wanting to bring back games for entertainment while keeping cautious about the possible safety impact of returning to the field.
“So much of the American identity [is linked] with sports, but we need to be very patient when sports come back,” University of Pennsylvania professor of epidemiology Dr. Douglas J. Wiebe told The Guardian. “We shouldn’t try to give short change to COVID-19 because it will continue to warrant strict social distancing measures. We really have to nip it in the bud now to the best extent we can.”
That patience could carry well into next year, Wiebe and a panel of experts told the publication. They pinpoint that a vaccine would seal the fate for getting back to the normal sports setting, though that could not be rolled out until mid-2021. Without a vaccine, a dire component to let fans into sports stadiums comes down to virus testing in order to control the environment within each venue.
“It may be well until 2021 before we let fans into stadiums,” said Dr. Nate Favini of Forward healthcare services. “If we can rapidly scale up testing to the degree where everyone in the country can get tested on a weekly basis, we can start allowing people who have proven negative test results into stadiums in smaller groups. That scale of testing could be possible at the end of this year. But in the absence of that, we’ll probably have to wait until a vaccine, which would be the middle of next year.”
The doctors agreed that paused American pro sports leagues do not have a timetable for their return given the testing ability needed to ensure health. Each league is also subject to the proper physical distancing it can employ, which leads experts to think an individual sport like golf may see a quicker return than contact sports like basketball or hockey.
On the global scale, there is the same concern for the postponed Tokyo Olympics. The communal nature of the games and travel involved could be cause for worry without an established vaccine.
“If we have a wide-scale vaccine rollout strategy by next summer, I think it’s possible to get to enough immunity to hold the Olympics,” Favini said. “Looking at how things are unfolding, by next summer we will still be in an environment where even though we may open day-to-day society, we still may not be in a place to open a big global event for people from all over the world to be in one space. I think we may end up having the Olympics postponed again.”