I get behind the 8-ball on these COVID-19 updates because (1) the news comes so fast and is so unpredictable that things change on a dime constantly, and (2) it’s honestly depressing when this is such a big chunk of my news-related duties. So I wind up punting for a half an hour in favor of doing some other project, and then more stuff comes up, and then this whole narrative changes, and then I go down a data wormhole about things in this city or that state … and then I just kinda get stuck in an endless loop. It’s an anxiety manifestation (we feel it, so we seek control, so we act in a way that actually produces more anxiety, so we seek more data and “control,” and so on and so on). Much love to all of you right now.
I want to start with a bit of good news, since it’s been in short supply: the last two days have been the first two days when we’ve finally gone under the 10% mark (i.e., fewer than 10% of total tests conducted resulted in a positive for COVID-19). You’ll see differing estimates out there on how much testing is enough, but generally, if you’re not AT LEAST under 10% positives, you know for sure you aren’t really doing enough testing to have your hands around how widespread an outbreak is. It took far longer than it should have because of the lost first month, but finally, we got there on back-to-back days.
That doesn’t mean this testing level will last, and it also doesn’t mean the positive cases won’t explode for other reasons. But I’ve been tracking this metric for a month, so it’s nice to at least have a couple days that look good on paper.
Illinois’s Phases Make Chicago Sports Fans Unlikely This Year
Of extreme interest to folks around here, Governor J.B. Pritzker updated the phased re-opening plan for Illinois, which is a conservative one like much of the rest of the Midwest. The first thing you’ll notice is that the plan does not permit large groups of fans at events until Phase 5, and then Pritzker updated when he thinks Illinois might actually reach Phase 5:
Pritzker said he doesn’t anticipate reaching Phase 5 with the economy fully re-opened until there is a vaccine (experts say that could take a year or more). No conventions, no festivals or large events until then.
— Ben Bradley (@BenBradleyTV) May 5, 2020
Given that – and this is of course totally subject to unknowable changes – it’s very hard to see fans permitted at Wrigley Field, G-Rate, the United Center, or Soldier Field until next year. I tend to think even that will be subject to us learning more about how the virus behaves outdoors, and also how large sporting venues can manage capacity limits, hygiene, and seating, but it’s fair to say: as we sit here this moment, Chicago sports may not return with any fans whatsoever until next year.
We have already been anticipating as much for the NBA and MLB, but this would be a significant impact to the NFL (which wasn’t necessarily certain), and could push them further in the direction of delaying the start of the season by a month. Their planned schedule drops tomorrow, by the way.
Speaking of which …
NFL Attendance Plans
At least one NFL team is already drafting up plans for how to accommodate fans at their stadium in the COVID era. From ESPN:
“We would have times to come in for security at different gates so people would be separated out, in terms of when they enter the stadium,” [Miami Dolphins CEO/president Tom] Garfinkel said. “We would exit the stadium much like a church environment, where each row exits so people aren’t filing out all at the same time in a herd.”
The mock-up including colored spots on the ground leading up to entrance gates to designate the distance needed between fans as they file into the stadium. It’s a plan not unlike what some restaurants have done for customers picking up takeout orders during the pandemic.
Garfinkel said this mock-up plan would include all fans wearing masks and ordering food from their seat then go upstairs and pick it up rather than waiting in line for concession.
Hard Rock Stadium can hold approximately 65,000 fans for a football game, but the Dolphins said they might be down to 15,000 fans for the next season as they adjust to a different setup.
I don’t think it’s inconceivable that NFL teams could accommodate 20% capacity in a reasonably safe way in five or six months from now. Either way, it’s encouraging to see the planning already underway, including significantly reduced capacity.
NBA Workouts and Testing
As some practice facilities open up for NBA teams at the end of this week, there are going to be safety and hygiene protocols in place, but NOT prophylactic testing:
Sources: As some practice facilities become able to re-open starting Friday, teams are still instructed not to test asymptomatic players for coronavirus. For now, NBA’s informed teams of updated measures on cardiac screening for certain players prior to voluntary workouts.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 6, 2020
In that case, the league appears to be still concerned about the volume of testing available nationwide, and the appearances if they were to take tests that are otherwise unavailable elsewhere for those who need it. It’s a PR decision for now, I expect, but it’s the right one until testing climbs further.
To that end, the league is anticipating that testing protocols will be different by the time an actual ramp-up to play begins, according to Woj.
Football Across the Pond
The Premier League (England) aims to resume training in two weeks and then return to competitive play in mid-June, but they’re still facing a whole host of unanswerable questions on the medical side:
EXCLUSIVE: Club doctors sent email to Premier League on Mon listing around 100 concerns/questions they want addressing on Return to Training protocol, most notably “How can we ‘approve’ guidelines that still carry risk of death?”. Full story @TheAthleticUK https://t.co/KothoKLL1X
— David Ornstein (@David_Ornstein) May 5, 2020
Until and unless we REALLY understand the risks presented by COVID-19 to various populations, there’s so much guesswork involved in answering, medically, “how low is the risk, and is that an acceptable level of risk?” Obviously sports inherently come with some level of risk, and indeed participating in anything in the world around us comes with risk. But we usually have a decent sense of (1) how likely or unlikely the risk is to manifest, and (2) how bad it could be if the risk does manifest. Right now? We’re getting more information about COVID-19 daily, but I doubt doctors feel 100% confident yet that the balance of risk is just right.
That said, in Germany, football has been cleared to return:
Official: The Bundesliga has been given the green light by the government to resume in the second half of May. The DFL will have a conference with the clubs tomorrow to discuss the details of the resumption of games. pic.twitter.com/0GCQnTwVZw
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) May 6, 2020
• An interesting chat among connected reporters on what comes next, if anything:
“We don’t make the timetable, the virus does.”
Gather around as @ShamsCharania 🏀, @Ken_Rosenthal ⚾️ & @PierreVLeBrun 🏒 give predictions for when their seasons will return, share their levels of optimism and discuss the 💰 aspect of it all: https://t.co/Rxs2NkgHrB pic.twitter.com/gL9gDs7w25
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) May 4, 2020
• More than 100 years ago, people were willing to wear masks – just sayin’:
Here is a photo of an undetermined Georgia Tech home game during the 1918 college football season. That’s when the sport was hit by the Spanish flu and the end of World War I. The photo was taken by a student, Thomas Carter. It was provided by Georgia Tech alumnus Andy McNeal. pic.twitter.com/jgVvgtlUbK
— Tony Barnhart (@MrCFB) May 6, 2020
• A “normal” college football season seems impossible, and adjusted plans are being considered:
“As for actually playing a [college football] season in the fall, I think the likelihood is decreasing with each day.”@CFBHeather thinks we may be looking at the possibility of a “shortened season” this year. pic.twitter.com/zwbGFupWVG
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) May 6, 2020