While it remains unknown if the NFL season will start on time this fall, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there's a chance negative testing players could play in empty stadiums amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview with NBC Sports' Peter King, Fauci addressed scenarios where teams could play without fans or see a reduced crowd size at games.
"I think it's feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium," Fauci said. "Is it guaranteed? No way . . . There will be virus out there and you will know your players are negative at the time they step onto the field."
He added, "If the virus is so low that even in the general community the risk is low, then I could see filling a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people could be six feet apart. I mean, that's something that is again feasible depending on the level of infection. I keep getting back to that: It's going to depend. Like, right now, if you fast forward, and it is now September. The season starts. I say you can't have a season—it's impossible. There's too much infection out there. It doesn't matter what you do. But I would hope that by the time you get to September it's not gonna be the way it is right now."
The NFL released its 2020 schedule last week and remains hopeful that the season will start on time. Several factors like a reduction in the number of coronavirus cases nationwide and increased testing capabilities will factor into the league's ability to play.
Fauci said the NFL season will also be affected by how the U.S. responds to a possible second wave of the virus in the fall. He suggested that teams should test players on Saturday night and Sunday morning before games to ensure infected players aren't on the field. If someone tests positive, he said teams need to be prepared for that player to be quarantined for 14 days and kept out for two consecutive games.
When asked if an infected player could transmit the virus during games, Fauci warned how it could potentially be spread.
"This is a respiratory virus, so it's going to be spread by shedding virus," he said. "The problem with virus shedding is that if I have it in my nasal pharynx, and it sheds and I wipe my hand against my nose—now it's on my hand. You see, then I touch my chest or my thigh, then it's on my chest or my thigh for at least a few hours. Sweat as such won't transmit it. But if people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that's the perfect set up for spreading.
"I would think that if there is an infected football player on the field—a middle linebacker, a tackle, whoever it is it—as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person."