L.A. mayor, health experts doubt sports will be played in front of fans before the fall of 2021

Los Angeles mayor says coronavirus will likely halt sporting events with crowds until 2021

JUSTIN WISE | THE HILL

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said Wednesday that mass gathering such as sporting events and concerts will likely remain canceled for the rest of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking on CNN, Garcetti confirmed an earlier report that he was considering barring such gatherings for at least one year. The mayor said it’s “difficult to imaging us getting together in the thousands anytime soon” and the city should prepare for an extended ban on such crowded events.

“I think we should be prepared for that this year,” Garcetti said. “I think we all never wanted science to work so quickly. But until there’s a vaccine, some sort of pharmaceutical intervention or herd immunity, the science is the science, and public health officials have been very clear. We’ve got many miles to walk before we’re going to be back in those environments.”

Garcetti suggested that sporting events and concerts without crowds could be a possibility in the months ahead. But he emphasized that it would be “very difficult to see” packing thousands of people into a stadium before 2021.

“Nothing I’ve heard would indicate that we’ll been in large thousands of people gatherings anytime soon and probably not for the rest of this year,” he added. 

The U.S. has reported more than 630,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and roughly 27,900 deaths caused by it as of Wednesday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The outbreak led major sporting leagues last month to cancel their seasons and a broad range of musicians to postpone tours.

President Trump late last week began more aggressively pushing for reopening portions of the economy, as signs show some areas are passing the peak of the outbreak.

Still, health officials have insisted that more comprehensive testing and contact-tracing must be in place before states and cities lift social distancing requirements. 

Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert and a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that pro sports could return this summer as long as fans were restricted from attending.

Resume sports? The idea sounds more realistic with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s blessing

Dan Wetzel | Yahoo Sports

Since the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports in America, leagues, teams, coaches, players, fans, television executives, media, sports talk show callers, internet message board geniuses and so on have been racking their brains for how to get them to return … safely. 

Ideas have been plentiful. Implementation nonexistent. Even attempting to stage an event under heavy restrictions, the way UFC president Dana White tried using a casino on isolated tribal land in California, with no fans and significant precautions, has been met with resistance, criticism and eventual cancellation.

White is a very successful and fearless — to a fault sometimes — businessman, but he didn’t have the credibility to sway opinion and make UFC 249 a reality this weekend.

Now comes someone who most certainly can change minds, a former high school basketball captain (Regis in New York City, 1958) and devoted baseball fan (Washington Nationals) with an opinion rooted in science, unaffected by personal financial gain and not viewed through a political prism.

Hey, Dr. Anthony Fauci, can we play some games soon?

“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci, America’s point person on the pandemic, said on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America” Show

This is the single biggest development in the potential return of sports since the pandemic broke. 

Fauci’s blessing on a proper plan (whatever it may be) can alleviate local concerns, provide political cover and turn the discussion into how to do this safely rather than just argue about whether anyone should even try.

Fauci agreed with what has emerged from the non-infectious disease experts among us as the most attainable, if still logistically challenging, plan. Specifically: One location for the games. No fans in the stands. Players, coaches, officials and television broadcast crews separated into hotels in a pseudo-bubble until the season is over.

The NBA playoffs from the MGM Grand? The NHL out in population-low but rink-rich North Dakota? MLB at a slew of spring training facilities in and around Phoenix?

Doable, according to Fauci.

“Nobody comes to the stadiums,” Fauci said. “Put [the athletes, coaches, etc.] in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled, but have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their families and just let them play the season out.”

Officially, the NBA, NHL and MLB remain in a suspended status and will only say that they are considering numerous contingency plans in the hope of getting the games and their businesses back. 

“Nothing’s been ruled in,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Nothing’s been ruled out.”

Part of that is because there remain so many unknowns — will testing improve, will treatments improve, will warm weather curb the spread of the virus, etc.?

President Donald Trump has started a task force with numerous sports leaders seeking a way to get the games going again. He complained Tuesday he was tired of watching “baseball games that are 14 years old” on television, the lament of just about every sports fan.

The issue with getting the games back as they are normally staged isn’t up to the president or a league commissioner. Playing games in dozens of different locations leaves things up to the whims of local health officials and politicians, who may be dealing with different levels of outbreak. 

It also requires travel and the challenges and expense of keeping so many arenas open. 

While using a single location or city with participants isolated from the public as much as possible is a massive undertaking, it seems easier and safer than going back to normal. You’d need only one locale to approve.

Is there the will for such a thing? There hasn’t been yet.

White attempted to stage a fight card this Saturday but was asked to stand down by his broadcast partner, ESPN, when the backlash and concerns became too significant. That was last week. Things can change quickly. White is now pointing to May 9 as the date for UFC 249, trying to fulfill his vow to be the first sport to return. Maybe he pulls it off this time.

What if the country can turn the corner? Does this get increasingly plausible in, say, late June? 

Does some place such as Las Vegas welcome the chance for the NBA to overtake the MGM Grand, the nation’s largest hotel with 6,852 rooms (lots of workers) and an arena attached to it, sort of like an extended NCAA subregional?

What if none other than Anthony Fauci is behind it?

Can the NHL do the same? How about baseball? Football — both pro and college — may be impossible under these conditions, but in a time when trusted voices are in short supply, the doctor’s comments were significant.

This is Dr. Fauci, not Dana White, even if they seem to be saying, and hoping to attain, roughly the same thing.

Health expert doubts sports will be played in front of fans before the fall of 2021

Dan Wolken | USA TODAY SPORTS

At least one prominent public health expert does not believe sports will be played in front of fans until the fall of 2021. 

Speaking as part of a New York Times panel discussion about how to re-start America amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who advised the Obama administration on health policy and the Affordable Care Act, said he did not think large gatherings would be possible until after a vaccine is widely distributed in 12-18 months. 

Emanuel, the older brother of former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel who now chairs the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said the American economy would have to be opened up in stages, beginning with workplaces that can maintain more social distancing practices.

But he was less optimistic about playing football in big stadiums, for instance, as the NFL and colleges would like to do this fall if possible. 

“Larger gatherings — conferences, concerts, sporting events — when people say they’re going to reschedule this conference or graduation event for October 2020, I have no idea how they think that’s a plausible possibility,” Emanuel told the Times. “I think those things will be the last to return. Realistically, we’re talking fall 2021 at the earliest.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, during his news conference Tuesday about how to reopen businesses, said it was unlikely that mass gatherings, such as sporting events, could be held this summer.

“The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” he said.

Emanuel pointed to colleges and universities as potentially one of the areas of society that could re-open more quickly if testing and contact tracing measures are readily available, pointing to the lower virus’ lower mortality rates — “not zero, but pretty damn close,” he said — for people under 30.

That could potentially point to an avenue for college football to be played without fans, though obviously there would be concerns about coaches and other officials involved in the games. 

“I don’t know how else we’re going to do it, frankly,” Emanuel said. “You can’t just flip a switch and open the whole of society up. It’s just not going to work. It’s too much. The virus will definitely flare back to the worst levels. So I think you are going to have to do segments. Again, this requires testing and tracking, so you reduce the risk of the infection spreading, even if it doesn’t come down to zero.”