With COVID-19 bringing a halt to global sports this spring, many are wondering if the pandemic’s stretch could also impact fall football. President Trump has expressed his belief that sports fans can fill stadiums and arenas by late summer just in time for the NFL season, though many health officials have been cautious about making such predictions.

Now, one health expert is offering new insight for the NFL season’s outlook. Dr. David Chao, former team doctor of the NFL’s Chargers, is warning that the league’s concern should not be launching the season, but rather finishing it.

“The bigger worry is going to come in December and January,” Chao said via the Miami Herald. “Can they finish the season, unless there’s more testing, unless there’s a vaccine?”

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Chao said that the NFL stands a “reasonable chance” to begin play in early September with or without packed stadiums. That scenario appears feasible with widespread testing available throughout the country to keep players, team officials and other personnel safe. Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, also emphasized the importance of efficient mass testing for moving forward with the 2020 season.

The league is doing its part to practice social distancing until training camp is scheduled for July. Commissioner Roger Goodell shut down all team facilities and will hold a remote NFL draft later this month while healthy players are encouraged to participate in virtual team workouts during the offseason.

Chao’s concern for safety not only is focused on the start of the NFL season but also the end of it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned Americans that the virus could be seasonal in nature and bring a decrease in cases in the months to come but result in another outbreak towards the end of the year.

A second wave of COVID-19 cases next winter, combined with regular cold and flu season, could have major ramifications of pro and college football as playoffs arrive each January. In that possibility, the NFL could be scrambling to not only complete its regular season but also initiate the expanded postseason play officials agreed on in 2020. League officials may need to look at executives in the NBA and NHL, which have their playoffs in jeopardy as a result of the pandemic and are reportedly considering a number of contingency plans.

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