Major League Baseball is hoping to finish up their modified season, but that future is looking dimmer by the day. On paper, they had a solid plan of restricting travel to limited locations and isolated hotel rooms. But with even just one person breaking the rules, the coronavirus can spread quickly. What does this mean for the return of professional sports?
Earlier this month, 13 members of the St. Louis Cardinals, both players and staff, tested positive for COVID-19. At the end of July, the virus spread through over half of the Miami Marlins team. This halted their schedule for the time being and puts the rest of their season in jeopardy. Multiple tests among six other teams have caused postponements as well. All of this because one player broke quarantine for strip club chicken wings.
”This is teaching us new lessons every day.
Mark Cameron, PhD
The return of professional sports, although lacking fans in the stands, provides a glimpse of prepandemic normalcy. The question is, can it hold up? Some have highlighted MLB’s traveling method as a weakness. Other professional sports are being more stringent in efforts to avoid risk.
Two professional sports leagues are using the bubble environment to try and mitigate the virus. Major League Soccer as well as the National Basketball Association are both hunkering down in Florida.
Mark Cameron, PhD, is an associate professor in Case Western Reserve University’s department of population and quantitative health sciences in Cleveland, Ohio. In order to stay afloat, Cameron says the MLB needs to stay flexible, follow public health precautions, and stay diligent in their plans.
Because both the MLB and the National Hockey League are opting out of the bubble approach, they need to be extra careful. A team wants to avoid infecting another, making every player a potential weak link when it comes to the virus.
“This is teaching us new lessons every day,” Cameron told Healthline.
The country has not returned to normal and is still in the midst of a pandemic, though some worry the return of professional sports may send a different message. There’s an increased likelihood that people will get together for gatherings in order to watch the games together.
Beer and sports go hand in hand, and unfortunately, infection officers found that gatherings with alcohol under lax public health control can lead to outbreaks. Florida is an example of reopening businesses with little restrictions.
Airing sports may have duel messaging, according to Cameron. While it may lull some into complicity, others may see examples of the need for precautions. Seeing athletes in masks reminds the viewer they too should be masked up.
“If their sports heroes show that mask use is important, then it shows they should do it whenever they congregate,” he said.
Dr. Rand McClain is the chief medical officer for LCR Health, a regenerative and sports medicine clinic in Santa Monica, California, who works with amateur and professional athletes
McClain believes the Marlins teams’ positive testing is not surprising. He says it shows that the routine and rapid testing systems they have implemented are working correctly.
As far as the world outside of professional sports, McClain shares Cameron’s concerns. Fans may falsely see the resume of sports as a green light for backyard gatherings. In reality, the U.S. has not reached that point in the fight against COVID-19.
“That is going to lead to a lot of problems. There’s a lot going on to protect those athletes, and it’s never going to be perfect,” McClain told Healthline. “There are some intelligent people out there making some ignorant assumptions.”
COVID-19 is not a smaller threat than previously, as increasing infection rates show. Instead, major league teams are spending large amounts of money to have rapid, regular testing— context the public may be overlooking.
“That’s a major mistake,” McClain said. “That’s inherent in the human condition.”
Though teams have resources for regular testing and take precautions, experts agree that the new coronavirus isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And as seen, small mistakes can make a big difference.