Dr. Fauci Says This One State Can Play Organized Sports in the Fall

If people can abide by recommendations "in the context of safely doing sports," it's "fine," Fauci says.

The dangerous spread of COVID-19 has moved from region to region in the United States. After New York managed to contain the virus, the hotspots transitioned to the Sun Belt states, and now the outbreak is moving into southeastern states, like Tennessee and Kentucky, and Midwestern ones, like Ohio and Indiana. With so many states dealing with surges in coronavirus cases, it's hard to see any glimmer of hope that life is returning to normal. But there is one state that's managing COVID-19 well: Connecticut. In fact, the Constitution State is doing so well, that Anthony Fauci, MD, says there is no reason why organized sports can't resume in the fall.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) revealed this rare bit of encouraging news during an August 3 press conference with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont. When asked if organized sports can resume, Fauci said, "It really depends on a case-by-case basis, the sport itself and what the level of infection is. But you still should abide by the recommendations, the five or six things you should adhere to. If you can do that in the context of safely doing sports, fine." He then hedged a bit, adding, "If not, then you may have to suspend it."

Those five or six things Fauci is referring to are in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) guidelines for youth sports. The CDC lists a handful of "strategies to encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19": staying at home if symptoms arise, practicing good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, wearing cloth face coverings, having adequate supplies, and putting up appropriate signs and messaging.

Fauci was more cautious about crowds, however—particularly for sports that are played indoors. "If the state recommendation is you don't want crowds, particularly indoor crowds, so should you have spectators or not?" Fauci asked. "If you do, how far apart should they be? Should they wear masks? I would recommend that they do."

Teenage girl in her softball uniform posing with a healthcare mask to protect her from the Coronavirus

Fauci's approval for fall sports is undoubtedly good news for Connecticut residents eager to return to some sense of normalcy and even better news for young high school athletes in the state.

In late July, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference—which oversees high school sports—announced a limited schedule for fall sports that will start in late September, with practices starting in just a few weeks. Fall sports in Connecticut high schools include cross country, soccer, swimming, volleyball, field hockey, and football. Of these, the only one considered a true contact sport is football, which has previously raised concerns about how it might spread COVID-19.

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During a press briefing with Lamont on July 30, Zeke Emanuel, MD, an oncologist, bioethicist, and vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, advised against playing contact sports—particularly football. Emanuel warned, "Indoor contact sports are just not going to be possible" under the current circumstances. He later added: "We do need to be safe and put safety No. 1, and I think contact sports are not a good idea."

On August 5, the University of Connecticut announced that it is canceling its football season, becoming the first major football program to do so. "After receiving guidance from state and public health officials and consulting with football student-athletes, we've decided that we will not compete on the gridiron this season," the university's athletics director, David Benedict, said in a statement. "The safety challenges created by COVID-19 place our football student-athletes at an unacceptable level of risk." And for more information on states that are not ready to start sports again, check out These Two States Are Becoming the Worst COVID Hotspots in the U.S.

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