Among the changes to daily life amid the coronavirus pandemic, sports teams have seen few to no fans at games for most of 2020.
With several vaccine trials underway, there is hope that things will slowly return to normal in 2021. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has provided an update on when we could see full-capacity crowds return to games next year.
In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Fauci said they will be "the last thing[s] that you're gonna see" as the U.S. approaches the end of 2021.
Public health experts say the return of full stadiums depends on several factors, including COVID-19 vaccines. When asked if NBA arenas could be full for the postseason in July, Fauci, the nation's leading immunologist, said, "Ah, I think that'll be cutting it close."
He went on to explain the timeline for when members of the public could get vaccinated.
"We're gonna be vaccinating the highest-priority people [from] the end of December through January, February, March," he 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 [with full sports stadiums]–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."
Fauci added that the nation's return to normalcy also depends on the number of people who choose to get vaccinated. Health experts haven't agreed on the same target number of vaccinations, although Fauci suggested it's "somewhere between 75 and 85%" to make a significant change.
Although he doesn't expect to see full crowds at NBA games this summer, Fauci's hopeful NFL games could be packed in 2021: "Oh, that's possible. I think that's possible."
Crowd sizes will also depend on local government COVID-19 restrictions in teams' markets. This season the NFL has left most fan protocols for teams to set. Some teams, such as those located in New York and California, do not currently allow spectators. The 49ers aren't even allowed to play their final two games at Levi's Stadium after Santa Clara County announced contact sports would be temporarily prohibited from Nov. 30 to at least Dec. 21.
According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 13.5 million COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the U.S. and over 268,000 people have died from the virus.