Would doctors take their kids and family to a football game at Davis Wade Stadium this fall? This was the question that kept rattling around in my mind and sparked me to find an answer.
As the debate rages on about whether or not we’ll see a return to sports soon, the city of Starkville waits in anticipation. The playing of football, or not, will no doubt impact lives in the community and all around in multiple ways.
Some say bring on the games. Others are understandably hesitant. So I took it upon myself to ask those in the know, those actually treating patients in Starkville, what their opinions were on college football returning to the Mississippi State campus this September, given the current coronavirus (COVID-19) fight and the conditions they have seen in Starkville.
What follows is a transcript (slightly edited for clarity) of my recent conversation with three Starkville doctors. They are as follows:
Dr. Cameron Huxford, pulmonologist - approx. 12 years experience (CLICK FOR MORE ON HUXFORD)
Dr. Jim Brown ophthalmologist - approx. 18 years experience (CLICK FOR MORE ON BROWN)
Dr. Will Carter, anesthesiologist - approx. 11 years experience (CLICK FOR MORE ON CARTER)
To set the scene, we sat down in Dr. Huxford’s Starkville office. I had a mask with me, which I had originally worn into the building, but all three doctors let me know I didn’t have to wear it if I didn’t want to. (I didn’t want to). The three doctors didn’t wear masks during this conversation either. So proceeded the following chat in which I gathered my answer to if local doctors would feel safe heading to football games this fall, plus more:
Cowbell Corner: First off, in general, do you feel like it would be safe to have fans in the stands for a football game at Davis Wade Stadium this fall?
Dr. Huxford: Cameron Huxford as a physician and as a human, I think yes it would be safe. I think that there will be people that shouldn’t, depending on the way things are – maybe certain people or groups shouldn’t come or maybe think about wearing masks or whatever. But I think for the general population, in my opinion, it would be safe to have football.
Dr. Brown: Yes, based on what we know, I think it’s safe. I think there will be people that should self-limit, but I think that’s up to them whether they do or don’t.
Dr. Carter: I think on the trajectory we are going at this point, I do (think it’s safe). I think things could definitely change. If you’ve seen the numbers from the CDC going back to the first of February...we’re looking for this curve. Cases, I’m not super worried about cases. I’m worried about deaths. If you look at this curve (on a statistical chart), it even kind of shows itself. It comes up (then starts to go back down)…It’s already kind of (going down) as a country. We’ve been waiting on the flattening of the curve and I think we’ve flattened the curve. From the start of this, I think everyone thought that really the only way we need to approach this is the people that are going to get it, we don’t want them all to get it in the same month. Because that would overwhelm our hospital systems. We have flattened the curve now for eight weeks or right at about eight weeks. So I think we’ve (flattened the curve). There’s a lot of talk about, ‘Are you going to have another peak or spike in the fall when temperatures get cooler?’ I don’t know. I don’t know if anybody can know the answer to that right now.
Dr. Brown: But (if there’s a new spike), it’s no more than you’re going to have a flu spike and some of those same people at risk of comorbidities with the flu will have those same issues with coronavirus.
Dr. Huxford: I think one of the interesting things is the experts keep talking about not reopening until cases start declining for 14 days. You’ve seen that. They’re not going to decline because they keep wanting you to test more and more people. The more people you test, the more positives you are going to have. You’re not going to have a decrease in testing numbers until there is no one left to test.
Dr. Brown: Which we’re a long way away from.
Dr. Huxford: That’s right. So I don’t think that’s a fair thing. If you have a virus that doesn’t make you sick, then you give it to me and I’m not sick either, does it really matter? You can be at a football game in November during the flu season and you don’t know that your neighbor doesn’t have the flu or strep throat or something like that.
Dr. Carter: It matters to the people that, like we said, may be at risk. It matters to the people that are scared to go, whether it’s because of that risk or not. I think all three of us agree that while we’ve kind of made decisions as a country on the best information they had, we all feel like we were probably a little later at opening things back up than we could’ve been, just on what we’ve seen here in Starkville.
Dr. Huxford: You don’t feel like there’s been an audible and realized it wasn’t as bad as we thought. So the national experts aren’t wanting to modify their initial stance.
Cowbell Corner: Assuming there is football this fall, do you believe it would be prudent to only have half-full stadiums with social distancing, or do you think it would be okay to run things as usual with maybe the most-at risk staying home? Just what are your thoughts on those things?
Dr. Huxford: I’d defer to the individual to make the decision on if they should go to the game or not and return it to normal as soon as possible without minimizing attendance or eliminating attendance.
Dr. Brown: I agree. It’s almost laughable to suggest there’d be six feet between each seat in the stadium. Then you get in a rabbit hole (if you’re a school) where the price of the seat might get more expensive and who’s going to get that every sixth seat?
Dr. Huxford: It might be different for different schools. You take something on a smaller scale like summer camps. There are certain church summer camps that are going to go this summer and there are others that aren’t. So there might be some schools decide it’s not worth the risk and others decide they’re going to do it.
Dr. Brown: I talked with (an unnamed university official) last week and he said that was one of their concerns was what if you have a player that is positive and they’d been in the visitor’s locker room earlier that week. Now Austin Peay (as an example) decides they don’t want to come down and play the next game because y’all just had somebody there that was positive. The schools really have to go out of their way to set a policy of some kind to say something like, ‘If you do that, you forfeit your money. You forfeit the game’, or what else? There has to be some kind of policy in there so if a school decides, ‘We’re out’, (there’s a path forward).
Dr. Carter: There have been rumors of arrangements where just SEC schools play each other. They haven’t announced any changes in the schedule, but I will say that most schools in the SEC are different than some of these other schools in bigger cities. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Yankee Stadium, but there’s only one real good way to get there and that’s the subway. And there are people everywhere. Well it’s not quite the same as if you just drive in your car to Starkville, Mississippi, then park maybe not even next to anybody and get out and walk. Until I get to the stadium, I might not even encounter anybody. There are lots of different angles and ways that, even if our state dictates some rules that universities have to follow, I think you can still do it in a safe manner.
Cowbell Corner: So just to be clear and make it more personal – for your own personal selves and families and things, would you feel perfectly comfortable going out to Davis Wade Stadium this fall for a tailgate or going to the football game and doing things just like has always been done in the past?
Dr. Huxford: I took my kids out to eat last Thursday night. We went out to eat with (Dr. Carter) and his wife Saturday night and we shared food.
Dr. Brown: And I went out Friday night.
Dr. Huxford: So I’ve already been out.
Dr. Carter: We went to The Guest Room and there were five tables in there full of people and all five tables were full of healthcare providers.
Dr. Huxford: (Laughs) That’s right. There were just doctors there. Two from Columbus.
Dr. Brown: My answer is yes (on going to Davis Wade Stadium in the fall).
Dr. Carter: We’ll be there.
Dr. Huxford: Now my father, he lives at Montgomery Gardens (an assisted living facility in Starkville). I wouldn’t go get him and take him right now.
Dr. Brown: Yeah, and I wouldn’t take my mom. She’s 77. She doesn’t need to go to the game. She probably wasn’t going to go anyway.
Dr. Huxford: Even statistically among nursing home patients, (a vast majority) recover. So it’s not fatal even for all of them. It’s just instead of a .000-something percent chance (younger people) would die, it’s a (greater) chance that a nursing home person would die. But yes, I’d go (take my family to Davis Wade Stadium). I’d take them right now.
Cowbell Corner: We’re getting into opinion here more than anything, but all three of you seem to be in agreement it’s safe for most people to attend a big sporting event in the fall. So why is there so much hesitation? Is it people and schools afraid of getting sued? Is it fear driven by the media? In your opinion, why is there still so much hesitation?
Dr. Huxford: At first there was uncertainty as to what was coming. All we knew was that a lot of people in China had died. I understood why we took precautions. Since then, that’s clearly not what we’re dealing with. It’s not an overabundance of people dying and it’s not even an overabundance of people being admitted to the hospital. It’s mostly asymptomatic folks or mildly symptomatic people. I don’t know why we’re still having this disagreement other than the public health experts are more concerned with total number of virus-infected people, whereas most medical providers who are actually taking care of patients are more concerned with sick people and dying people, not asymptomatic people.
Dr. Carter: If you look at it, nine out of 10 people that believe they have it – they (really believe) they have it – then they go see their doctor and their doctor might say, ‘Yeah, I think you’ve got it, too.’ Then they go get tested and nine out of 10 people are negative.
Dr. Huxford: We got all of our tests back from (Monday) and none of them were positive. There has to be a difference (of opinion) in the public health experts and the doctors who practice day-to-day medicine.
Dr. Brown: Here’s an example. I just got an email from the state department of health. They just shut down seven counties (on Tuesday), (Mississippi Governor) Tate Reeves did. It’s social restrictions where there’s this long list of stuff, back to wearing masks and all this kind of stuff and saying these seven counties are hot spots. I was like, ‘I’d like to see the data on that’. To the question, that’s part of the reason people remain afraid. They hear stuff like that and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, it must be awful.’ But I don’t know that it really is. The stuff they’re asking people to do seemed more like an infringement on civil liberty than a protection of anything else. It was curfews and masks for certain people, but not for others and if you were in a public place, less than six feet from someone, you had to wear a mask. Otherwise, not. I mean it’s crazy.
Dr. Carter: Alright, so why are we doing all this? It’s for lives. Life is not something to mess around with. It’s not. I totally agree. But the way this virus is working, it’s ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. So you can’t isolate yourselves forever, because it could be here forever. If you compare this to SARS or MERS, other severe respiratory viruses that have come from Asia, they have been self-limiting. A lot of that is because they have mutated in the middle of their pandemics and it has been less infective. Just like they mutated to get to a certain point, they mutate again and it becomes less infective. Is that something that can happen (with COVID-19)? I don’t know. But I do think there’s a certain percentage of our population that is going to be more susceptible to this than others. But everyone can’t live like this forever.
Dr. Brown: The real question is, are the things they are doing really going to mitigate the virus? In the long run, no. It’s going to run its course whether it is sooner or later.