How safe is it to start professional team sports next month?

Dave Uram
June 26, 2020 - 9:56 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It’s been about 15 weeks since major professional teams have played their respective sports. If everything goes as planned, most will return in made-for-television form next month — with some of them happening in bubble-like environments. 

Many who have missed sports will welcome them back with open arms.

“I think we have a need to do this,” KYW Medical Editor Dr. Brian McDonough said. “I think, as a country, if we can pull this off, it’s really important for everybody’s psyche.”

But how much risk will there be for those involved?

“The virus spreads the same way, and nothing has changed since the beginning,” McDonough said. “We can ignore it and say it has, but the reality is, it spreads rapidly and it's through droplet nuclei contact and those things.”

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And then, when you’re taking part in athletic activity — “you’re running, your heart rate goes up, you’re breathing harder — that’s when you will essentially spit or release fluids that will get other people infected. It can happen fast.”

While McDonough is skeptical about how fool-proof the NBA can make the campus environment they plan to play in, he likes that concept better than traveling among several cities, as MLB intends to try.

“Playing the way they’re doing it with empty stadiums, trying to be in a bubble, I think that’s the way it’s gonna have to be. I think that’s the only way they’ll pull it off,” he said.

McDonough believes the sports that will try to take place during the summer will have the best chance to successfully play their season. He said football, on the other hand, will be tougher. 

“Football’s peak season is gonna happen when you’re gonna have flu season and COVID,” McDonough said.

The NFL intends to start training camps at the end of July. It will be the first time since the pandemic started that players will be on the field together, presumably taking part in team activities to get ready for the regular season in September. 

Football is synonymous with person-to-person contact.

“Just the players alone, they are pushing each other — on the line, let’s say — with incredible exertion and power,” McDonough said. “I got to believe they’re spitting, they’re sweating and they’re touching each other. They alone are at risk if someone has an infection.” 

McDonough thinks the NFL should give up on the idea of having fans in the stadiums. According to ESPN, owners approved a plan that will allow teams to tarp off seats close to the field for safety purposes, and potentially sell ads on the tarps. ESPN reports no policy has been decided on to allow fans to attend games.

The National Women's Soccer League has already returned in a Saturday tournament in Utah.

Stadiums aside — for any sport — McDonough believes testing is key, as well as monitoring for various symptoms, not just temperature. 

Already, as more sporting events are getting ready to return, we’re seeing several COVID-19 cases among athletes, and among staff who work for the teams. Unfortunately, it’s almost inevitable some will come down with the coronavirus. 

But compared to mid-March, these leagues are far better prepared with protocols and procedures in the event of a positive test result, which will help them prevent spread and avoid another shutdown.

“This is really aggressive in how it attacks people. It spreads real easily, so you can do what you can do, but I think we’re gonna see cases,” McDonough said. “But the other side of it is: What’s the alternative? Do you not try? I think they’re trying to the best of their ability to do it as safe as possible.”

NOTE: An earlier version of this story neglected to make mention of the National Women's Soccer League's early return.