Lichtenstein: Why Dr. Fauci's Vision for Sports to Return is More Hopeful Than Realistic

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In these dire times, this country is so desperate for sports — or any form of entertainment — that we’re willing to consider the most unfeasible solutions.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the preeminent public authority on the coronavirus pandemic as the nation’s Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, floated such a scenario in a Snapchat interview on Tuesday. 

Fauci suggested that upcoming Major League Baseball and NFL seasons can be salvaged, but only if those leagues undertook extraordinary measures. The games would obviously be played without fans, which isn’t a dealbreaker since the leagues would still be able to take in considerable TV revenues.

However, Fauci might not have thought through the rest of the plan. 

“Put (teams) in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled—have them tested like every week, and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out,” Fauci said.

The devil, as always, is in the details.

Let’s start with baseball, where plans to utilize ballparks throughout Arizona are reportedly being investigated. MLB employees would be sequestered in the Phoenix area. 

Between players, coaches, training and operations staffs, umpires, league officials and broadcasting crews, you’re talking about accommodating thousands of people every day.  Since you can’t play all the games at Chase Field and even the Phoenix area is well spread out to find 15 ballparks, how are teams going to travel to each game from their hotels? By bus? And if the plan calls for teams to move to hotels closer to their next series’ ballpark, how many of the more remote locations have the “big hotels” that can safely house and feed major league operations? Remember, no team (other than maybe the Diamondbacks) will be the “home” team. So you’re talking about two full contingents at these hotels, which would have to be thoroughly disinfected after every series.      

Good luck getting the Players Association to go along with five months of nothing but baseball in the Arizona heat, especially if families were forced to stay home.   

Folks, the virus is still here and will stay here until the country gets on the same page to defeat it. It has deadly consequences to those infected, even among the young and healthy. In an unofficial count, since not all states provided demographic records, the Washington Post found about 650 deaths of people between the ages of 20-40 as of a week ago. In New York, 64% of patients between 30-39 who died from COVID-19 suffered from a preexisting medical condition like diabetes or asthma. That means more than a third of the deaths lacked such a contributing factor.  

Those stats, of course, do not include the much larger number of people who survived but required hospitalizations. Some of those folks will suffer life-long afflictions from the disease.

As I wrote last week, who wants to play this kind of Russian Roulette? Only those who have proven to be immune can safely return to normalcy. Since a vaccine is at least a year away, the only possibility would be if someone who overcame COVID-19 possesses antibodies that would make them immune and not contagious, which is not a known fact at this time.  What I neglected to mention was that the test that would indicate whether an individual’s blood contains such antibodies has not even been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Fortunately, MLB announced on Tuesday that they would offer up 10,000 employees from 27 of the 30 teams to assist with antibody research at Stanford University.  Again, this research is intended to prove the validity of the test, not whether it is safe for baseball to resume. 

All it would take is one slip-up, even if we assume — since pro sports teams seem to have no problems securing tests that have been scarce for the rest of society — MLB can manage an extensive testing program no matter the frequency. We saw how quickly the virus can spread through a pro sports team right before the NBA (15 cases) and NHL (8 cases) cancelled their respective seasons a month ago.

I get it, since then, we have missed sports. I was scheduled to be at Barclays Center tonight to cover the Nets’ 2019-20 regular season finale versus Giannis and the Bucks. Instead, it’s looking like another night of reruns of “The Office” from my couch.

It beats risking the alternative. Fauci’s vision may have been aspirational, but, as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The worst thing we could do at this point is trigger another round of infections because we’re collectively too ADD-inflicted to wait out the pandemic.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1