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“Plausible, but not optimistic” fans will be at NFL games this fall, says epidemiologist

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That’s if the season happens at all

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball has announced that an agreement was reached with its players’ union where games will not be played until, among other conditions, there is no longer a ban on “mass gatherings.” With the NFL season six months away, it may seem far enough off that such conditions and worries are outside the realm of reasonable concern to fans. Not so, says Dr. Zach Binney, an epidemiologist from Emory University.

On a special edition episode of the Nick & Nolan Show, Dr. Binney and Dr. Maria Bottazzi, a microbiologist specializing in infectious diseases, discussed the timelines for the future we are hurtling towards as confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 continue to climb. When asked specifically about the chances that the NFL season could be affected despite being months away, Dr. Binney had significant concerns.

“I think its possible to have pro sports including the NFL come back, but I want to define what comeback means. I think it’s a lot easier to have football games without spectators, for example. Because it’s a huge difference, epidemiologically speaking, and from the perspective from a virus’ ability to spread, it’s totally different to have maybe 200-250 people in a stadium, you know I’m talking players, coaches, essential game day staff, medical staff, broadcast staff vs. 70,000 screaming fans. Those are just completely different levels at which we have the ability to control the virus. So I think if football is coming back 2 things need to happen: One is we need to be really really disciplined about social distancing right now so we can get into the rebuild and then it will probably need to happen without fans. But could we have the NFL on the TV in the fall? It’s possible if we are good about what we need to do right now.”

When mentioned that this isn’t something many people are saying at this point, he continued.

“Now I said that it’s a possibility; I did not say that I’m optimistic, [just] that it’s plausible. But this all really depends on what we are doing right now. Right now, I’m nervous that we’re not doing enough. We’re not staying home as much as we should. We don’t have a national shelter-in-place order. All of these things that are really really important. The NFL season is definitely in jeopardy. If we don’t have a lid on this thing to the point that we can contain it to the degree like areas like South Korea and Singapore are able to do right now, then no we can’t have several hundred getting together for anything.”

Free agency and the large amount of football news that NFL fans have had the opportunity to let occupy them has been a welcome respite from the ubiquitous COVID-19 news. With MLB choosing not to play games until a ban on “mass gatherings” is lifted, its easy to come to the conclusion that means until there is a vaccine. Despite the NFL not having made any such declarations, it still seems unlikely that many of us will be cheering from the stands in 2020.


You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.