Dr. Anthony Fauci gives colleges advice on testing, allowing fans as workouts return

Leading coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci delivered precautionary advice to colleges that plan on bringing their athletes back to campus as soon as June 1. The first step, unsurprisingly, consists of testing.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke with the Chronicle of Higher Education on Friday about the strategies universities should be using in bringing students back to campus. It was the same day the NCAA announced that athletes in all sports could return for voluntary workouts starting June 1.

Fauci recommends ‘baseline testing’ for NCAA football

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave advice to athletic directors as they bring student-athletes back to campus. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Fauci explained the idea of baseline testing to being students back to campus. It would require everyone get testing upon returning and then using surveillance testing on a selectively chosen representative sample every week or two. That would be the best way to ensure safety when football players return in a matter of a week, he told the Chronicle.

“The athletes that tend to come back the earliest are the football players. That’s a very intensive contact sport. What I think would be important if they’re going to do that is to test all the players and make sure that when they do come in, they come in all negative at the same time and then do the same sort of surveillance of them and make sure the people who are associated with them — the people who serve their meals, the people who are involved in training with them — also are protected in the sense of wearing masks and doing social distancing to the extent possible.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said on the organization’s Twitter on Friday that advances in testing will allow schools to increase the number of tested and overall availability of the tests, per USA Today Sports.

The NCAA first announced on Wednesday that football and basketball players would be allowed to start voluntary workouts on June 1 before expanding the group. The SEC said it will allow in-person athletics activities beginning one week after, on June 8, with each campus allowed to set its own decision.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference is prepared to begin its autumn slate “as currently scheduled.”

Will colleges have fans in attendance?

As leagues begin to plot their returns to action, they are doing so with fans in mind. That includes closed door games, such as in the German soccer league, and lowering capacity and tickets sold, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing.

Fauci said the question of included fans in the plans is very regionally driven. Via the Chronicle:

“I think it’s very difficult to predict. It’s going to really depend on where the athletic event is taking place and what the dynamics of the particular outbreak or the particular level of infection are.

Wyoming is obviously very different from New Orleans, which is very different from Utah and is very different from Chicago.

If there’s very, very little infection in a community, you might have spectators. I don’t think you can have people sitting right next to each other with every seat occupied.”

In mid-April, Fauci outlined how sports could come back in 2020. He described a “bubble” situation where teams were put up in hotel, surveilled and tested regularly. As part of that, though, there would be no fans. He has said he hopes baseball can return — he’s an avid Washington Nationals fan — but also tempered expectations for the NFL as recently as May 11. It will depend, he said, on how the infection has spread when we come to April and if there is in fact the second wave that is being speculated.

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