“Take me out to the ballgame” is one of the longstanding American springtime calls to action, but for Dr. Anthony Fauci, it might be a bit too early for that—for fans of Major League Baseball or kids who play it. Fauci expressed concern over team sports as a potential driver for COVID-19 spread on the same day that the Texas Rangers baseball team allowed an Opening Day crowd of more than 38,000 fans into Arlington’s Globe Life Field to watch a game.
CNN noted that in an April 6 interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Fauci expressed concern about sports and the spread of COVID-19 among children. “We’re finding out that it’s the team sports where kids are getting together,” he said, “obviously many without masks, that are driving it, rather than in the classroom spread.”
Fauci, a noted baseball fan, told the Washington Post in a March 31 interview that getting to a baseball game is a priority for him once conditions allow. But he’s still trepidatious about a return to full stadiums at this stage of the fight against the pandemic, now into its second year.
“I think that what we’re going to be seeing as the season progresses and as we get more and more people vaccinated and the level of infection comes down in the community, there will be more flexibility in getting more and more people into the ballpark,” Fauci said. “Hopefully by the time we get in the full swing of the season, there’ll be a lot more people that could feel comfortable being in the ballpark.”
Responding to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll that found 2 in 3 Americans say they’re comfortable attending an outdoor event such as baseball, Fauci commented, “We know that from experience that when you’re in a place like [Nationals Park] and particularly if you’re well spaced and you’re [seated] and you’re wearing a mask, the chance of spreading infection is extraordinarily low.”
“Outdoor is clearly far, far safer than indoors because of the recirculation of air indoors,” he added. “Whereas outdoor, you know, you have a dilution with the entire environment, so that’s why the risk is so much lower in an outdoor [setting]. That’s why stadiums like [Nationals Park], if you have an appropriate, prudent spacing of people, the risk is very low.”
Asked whether there’s a “magic number” of how many fans can be safely allowed to enter a stadium, Fauci equivocated, “It’s nice to think that we have a mathematical precision in figuring out what the right number is, but it’s just not true. It really depends a lot on the level of infection in the community where the ballpark is located. You’re going to assume that the overwhelming majority of people that are going to show up at the ballpark are from the area where the ballpark is located.”
The judgment of what percentage of capacity you’re going to have is likely going to be influenced by what the level of baseline infection is in the community surrounding and the geographic area of the ballpark.
But the sight of a full ballpark full of Texas Rangers fans in Arlington, at this stage of the season, likely gave Fauci pause. It’s something the NFL didn’t allow during its 2020 season.
As Slate’s Elliot Hannon wrote, “In what is either an exciting development or a certifiably insane one depending on your epidemiological/political worldview, a grand total of 38,238 fans packed into the seats at Globe Life Field in Arlington. The Rangers classified the attendance as a sellout for the only team in Major League Baseball currently allowed to operate at full capacity after the Republican governor of Texas declared the state 100% done with COVID-19 and any of the restrictions that come with it.”
“Packing tens of thousands of fans into a stadium, even an open-air one, isn’t exactly CDC-approved at this point in the pandemic,” Hannon tutted. President Joe Biden also said he didn’t think allowing a full house was responsible.
Sam Gannon, reporting from the stadium on April 5, tweeted a short video spanning the full stadium of Texas Rangers fans, marveled, “So this is what a packed ballpark feels like?! Almost forgot. What a sight!”
The Slate article added Texas has fully vaccinated 16% of its eligible population and a quarter of the state has received at least one dose.