The US government's leading physician in its response to the coronavirus crisis has revealed how the expected rollouts of vaccines will impact the return of spectators to sporting events.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NAIAD, laid out rough timelines for when sports venues can expect to host fans at full or near-full capacity for the 2021 season, during a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports.
After cautioning that sporting events were a relatively low priority in the overall total reopening of social and economic life, Fauci said it's "possible" that next year's NFL season could be staged with large numbers of fans in attendance.
The NBA season, however, was less likely to see large crowds, according to Fauci, because the already-limited supplies of the vaccines will be reserved first for those in the public deemed to be at high-risk.
“We're gonna be vaccinating the highest-priority people, the end of December through January, February, March,” Fauci said.
Not enough of the population will have been vaccinated by the time the NBA playoffs are wrapping up in the early summer, he explained.
"I think that'll be cutting close," Fauci said.
“By the time you get to the general public, the people who'll be going to the basketball games, who don't have any underlying conditions, that's gonna be starting the end of April, May, June.
"So it probably will be well into the end of the summer before you can really feel comfortable – if a lot of people get vaccinated. I don't think we're going to be that normal in July. I think it probably would be by the end of the summer.”
End of the summer, of course, would roughly coincide with the start of the college and NFL football season.
While Fauci's comments perhaps represent a light at the end of the tunnel for sports fans, the article lists several potential complications to a so-called return to normalcy.
First, the vaccines must pass muster beyond preliminary results. As well, many fans have tolled pollsters they are wary about returning to venues too soon, while many Americans in general are skeptical of vaccines.
All of which could be roadblocks to once again seeing bleachers packed with spectators, according to Fauci.
“Having an efficacious vaccine in and of itself doesn't get us out of this difficult situation we're in,” he said. “But an efficacious vaccine that's widely utilized could get us to a point where we're really approaching normality.
“We could get there by the end of the summer, and as we get into the fall of next year. ... If 50% of the people say, ‘You know, I don't want to get vaccinated,’ then it's gonna take considerably longer than that.”
The veteran government physician, a self-proclaimed sports fan, has become a mini-celebrity in the sports sphere and beyond since he entered the world stage in the spring.
Fauci tossed out the ceremonial first at the MLB season opener between the Yankees and Nationals in Washington DC in late July. The New York City native, who turns 80 this month, unleashed an ugly heave that nearly ended up in the visiting dugout, a viral gaffe that took on new meaning during his highly publicized falling out with President Trump.
Fauci said during the election campaign that he planned to remain in his post for the next presidential term, regardless of the outcome of the election.