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Dr. Anthony Fauci says NFL faces several hurdles for 2020 season

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the new coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on April 22, 2020. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says that if the level of infection from the coronavirus at the start of the NFL season is comparable to what it is today, it would not be possible to play.

Fauci told NBC Sports’ Peter King for Monday’s “Football Morning in America” column that there is simply no way to predict whether conditions in September will permit the NFL season to begin.

“I mean, that’s something that is again feasible depending on the level of infection,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. “Like, right now, if you fast-forward and it is now September. The season starts. I say you can’t have a season — it’s impossible. There’s too much infection out there . . . I would hope that by the time you get to September, it’s not gonna be the way it is right now.”

Fauci said players who test positive for the illness would have to be removed from their teams for at least 14 days. He added that the unrelenting contact between players would lead to transmission of the disease.

“This is a respiratory virus, so it’s going to be spread by shedding virus,” he said. “The problem with virus shedding is that if I have it in my nasal pharynx and it sheds and I wipe my hand against my nose — now it’s on my hand. You see, then I touch my chest or my thigh, then it’s on my chest or my thigh for at least a few hours.

“Sweat as such won’t transmit it. But if people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that’s the perfect setup for spreading. I would think that if there is an infected football player on the field . . . as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person.”

That’s why testing is the only way to move forward.

“If you really want to be in a situation where you want to be absolutely certain,” Fauci said, “you’d test all the players before the game. And you say, those who are infected: Sorry, you’re sidelined. Those who are free: Get in there and play.”

When King raised the scenario in which players are tested the night before a game and four test positive, Fauci said: “You got a problem there. You know why? Because it is likely that if four of them are positive and they’ve been hanging around together, that the other ones that are negative are really positive . . . Once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got a real problem. You gotta shut it down.”

If Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes were to test positive the night before a game, King asked, would he have to disappear for two weeks?

“Absolutely, absolutely,” Fauci said. “It would be malpractice in medicine to put him on the field, absolutely.”

Fauci said the league could stage games in empty stadiums or, if conditions permit, could allow some fans to attend.

“I think it’s feasible that negative-testing players could play to an empty stadium,” he said. “Is it guaranteed? No way . . . There will be virus out there and you will know your players are negative at the time they step onto the field . . . Also, if the virus is so low that even in the general community the risk is low, then I could see filling a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people could be six feet apart.”

Fauci has begun what he called a “modified quarantine” after making a “low-risk” contact with Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, who tested positive for the virus. Fauci is one of three members of the White House coronavirus task force in quarantine. He will remain at home and work remotely for 14 days, although he said he might work in his office alone. He will be tested every day and so far has tested negative.

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