On the latest Beyond the Baseline podcast, host Jon Wertheim talks with USTA and NCAA chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hainline. With various solutions and scenarios for the return of sports under consideration, Dr. Hainline discusses exactly what it will take for sports to come back; pros and cons of the "closed-door" scenario; the unique challenges that tennis faces in returning, including the specific circumstances that must be in place in order for the 2020 U.S. Open to go on as planned; and much more.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Jon Wertheim: What do you think of this no fan scenario that we keep hearing about?
Dr. Brian Hainline: Well, I think you have to plan first on a no fan scenario, because you're thinking about the inner bubble. And how do you protect the inner bubble? And can you even get that right? And if you can get that right and then, you know, let's take a wide open space like Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is. You could maybe imagine if you can get everything right for the inner circle and then, there's an outer circle of people who need to be there to run the tournament. Then could you add fans on top of that? It's a possibility. You know, you look at some of the creative solutions like the Miami Dolphins and the diagram they put together for imagined football game where you have like seats of four that are stacked together, but then they're separated. But it's tricky because do you then test everyone? Do you do a screen? That's what is not so well worked out. So I think we first have to get the no fan scenario down and then build on that.
And we have to ask philosophically, why are we doing that? I mean, why is sports so important? And why don't we just wait? But, you know, if you look at the reality, I mean, so we don't want to open up too soon. But we're gonna be dealing with this in the summer of 2021. We may be dealing with this in 2022. We just don't know. We can put our hopes on a vaccine, but we don't have a vaccine for the closest relative of this particular coronavirus and that's the SARS coronavirus. We don't have a vaccine for SARS, MERS, for HIV AIDS. So maybe we will, maybe we won't. But meanwhile, society is at risk of dying. You know, there are a really broad public health implications of massive unemployment and everything else. But where does sports fit in? Sport is just so culturally essential to what society is. It's an expression of who we are as homo sapiens from an evolutionary point of view. And I think it actually provides sort of a physical manifestation of hope. And when we have hope, that actually changes who we are in terms of our our own health, our mental health, our physical health. So I think there is a reason for trying to get this out and to do it right.
JW: I think that's a good point because I think people are seeing this as an economic proposition. But I think you look at the role sports plays in a cultural fabric, a university tableau, and that ought to be a consideration perhaps. Not at the expense of health and safety, but more than balance sheets.
Let's frame this positively. What's it gonna take for there to be a 2020 U.S. Open in some capacity?
BH: I think to do a U.S. Open, there are a few things that have to happen. One is: New York has to be in phase three. So the one good thing is that Governor Cuomo has been pretty strict about what the reentry points are going to be. And I think because of that, it makes it more likely that there is not going to be a massive resurgence because of opening up too soon. It could be because of the virus, but that's from other points of view. So I think that is is really helpful. I think you'd have to be in a place where you have to have a great working relationship with the governor, the mayor, and then you have to really be able to define that inner bubble. There has to be a commitment by players to stay with that. So, that may mean they would have to come two weeks before hand, which I don't think they would mind, because that would allow them to really train. And you're going to have to control their movements or there's going to have to be a commitment on that. So, it doesn't mean that they're staying in the middle of Manhattan and hanging out. And it would require very regular testing. You know, I think to pull something off like this, it may well require daily testing of the inner circle. And then you would have to have a very strict protocol if someone all of a sudden tests positive. But the advantage of bringing people in two weeks ahead of tim, and if you're really restricting their movements or they're sort of in a tournament-imposed quarantine, if you will, an agreement, then the likelihood of someone testing positive is really lessened. So it would take a strict adherence like that and then building out the outer bubble, making certain everything there is is done correctly. If it's an open event, you can imagine using the vast grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and setting it up in such a way that you can really assure sort of physical distancing.
Then you come to the ball. There's been so much speculation about the virus particle live on a ball and we don't have the study. And we and we decide, even if we had this study, how valid is it going to be? So there are ways that you can think about the ball sharing. And if we know that the players have tested negative, well, then there can be a sharing of the ball, you know, for general people playing, like if I'm playing with someone, I don't know if they're positive or not, but we're social distancing. You can imagine a scenario where I'm only going to use my balls, my opponent or partner is only gonna be using their balls. And when you give them to someone else, you don't pick them up with your hand. You just use your your foot and racquet and hit it over.
But I think we're testing before every match. We know people were negative. I think we can work the ball things out. But I think you have to be careful about all kids and what's their role going to be, if any. So there, you have to really, really get into some pretty granular detail.