There’s no question Dr. Anthony Fauci’s first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ season opener Thursday night against the New York Yankees was wild.
But the nation’s leading authority on infectious diseases hit a grand slam in early March when he predicted COVID-19 was a serious enough threat for the National Basketball Association to play in empty arenas. Now, Major League Baseball (MLB) has joined the ranks of the fanless and the National Football League (NFL) teams are at training camp.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Wall Street Journal, the 79-year-old Brooklyn native talked about resuming professional sports safely, whether it’s unfair that high paid athletes get their coronavirus test results quickly while the rest of the world waits and what needs to happen to get fans back in the stands.
On whether baseball and football teams are doing enough to keep themselves safe, Fauci said he spoke to Washington Nationals’ owner Mark Lerner and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who said they feel comfortable that protocols are adequate.
“I think they probably are,” Fauci said. “I just can’t pass judgment, because it’s uncharted water. You don’t know what’s going to be adequate.”
Fauci said when news broke that Washington Nationals left-fielder Juan Soto tested positive for the virus, he never considered skipping the game.
“What would be the danger?” he asked. “We don’t know if any of the other players on the team had been infected in the lag between when his positive test came back and when he was isolated. But I was in the stands. I didn’t interact with the players. I had a mask on...I didn’t consider myself in any danger.”
Fauci was asked if he had any concerns that sports leagues are using too many tests while shortages have been reported. He said given that the U.S. is doing up to 1 million tests daily or more, it's unlikely athletes will make much of a dent.
Still, basketball teams are getting results back in a day, while others are waiting for up to 10 days.
“I don’t see the dots between sports getting their results back quickly and other groups not as being necessarily connected,” he said.
On what it would take to put fans back in the stands, the doctor said sports owners would have to take every precaution to safeguard the public’s health. For example, he said a considerable degree of social distancing and masks would be a must.
Asked if he would have attended the Nationals game if there had been fans in the stadium, Fauci said he is not only 79, but has several underlying conditions.
“I’m at high risk,” he said. “Would I want to do that? I don’t know. Probably not.