Adam H. Beasley: An important, overlooked coronavirus scenario that could threaten the NFL season

Tribune Content Agency

The biggest concern, justifiably, around the NFL right now is finding a way to play games this fall in a healthy, safe way.

Outside of horse racing, all sporting events are on hold because of coronavirus, and it’s unclear when they will resume. Basketball and hockey playoffs are at risk of cancellation.

The NFL, meanwhile, has plenty of time for things to improve. Football season isn’t for another five months, and teams don’t report to training camp until late July.

NFL executive Jeff Pash told reporters earlier this month that “our planning, our expectation is fully directed at playing a full season, starting on schedule and having a full regular season and a full set of playoffs, just as we did in 2019.”

But there’s a very real scenario that hasn’t gotten enough discussion which could prevent the league from crowning a champion in 2020.

David Chao, the Chargers’ former team doctor, agrees with Pash that “there’s a reasonable chance” that the NFL can begin its season in September, either with fans in the stands or without.

However …

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

In other words, what if COVID-19 comes roaring back once the weather turns cold?

Chao’s concern is one backed by the nation’s foremost authority on the deadly virus.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” Sunday that it’s likely that the virus “will assume a seasonal nature.”

Fauci added: “We need to be prepared that since it will be unlikely to be completely eradicated from the planet that as we get into next season we may see the beginning of a resurgence.”

The NFL season ends in late December. The playoffs run through early February — right around the peak of cold and flu season.

The best way to beat this pandemic is by creating and deploying an effective vaccine. While labs both domestically and around the world are tirelessly working on one, few think a vaccine will be widely available until at least early 2021.

So even if there are huge breakthroughs in testing and symptom mitigation therapies between now and then, there’s a reasonable expectation that the winter will bring another wave of infections — which could endanger the NFL’s ability to finish the season and hold a Super Bowl.

“If there’s the possibility that one player on the field has it, there will be some people who won’t play,” Chao said, who added that “our lives have changed a magnitude more than 9/11.”

As of midday Friday, there were more than 473,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, including nearly 18,000 deaths.


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