How dangerous is it to participate in a professional or college football game during this stage of epidemics? Millions of people are doing this, mostly exposed.
Scott Simon, Host:
Millions of football fans without masks are going to sports, cheering for their supporters, college, high school teams. Now, at the start of the season, many epidemiologists strongly advise against it. He feared that games could become super-spreaders. But so far, as NPR’s Wade Goodwin has reported, this has not happened.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Given how contagious the Delta variant of the corona virus is, the majority of football stadium-filled spectators, not wearing masks, stood right next to each other, screaming their hearts out for hours. Sounds better. .
(Sound byte of archived recordings)
Unknown announcer: Thompson to pass, immediately eligible. He has got the first number. Still up, capable, within 20 to 10. And fourth down, Xavier Worthy made the play.
Goodwin: At Austin’s Daryl Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, a sea of humanity rejoices for the Long Horn, almost all exposed.
Bill Hannell: Everyone is going to the stadium shoulder to shoulder, sitting in the stadium, coming out of the stadium.
GOODWYN: Bill Hannell is an alumnus of UT, a former member of the Long Horn Band in the late ’70s, who now owns season tickets. He also helps out at the UT Alumni Center before the game starts. Hanel, like everyone else who works there, is vaccinated and wears a mask. But it is estimated that about 9 out of 10 alumni who pack in the area 90 minutes before the kick-off do not wear masks.
Hannell: The bottom line is that I don’t think people are living in fear anymore. They no longer want to live in fear. And that’s one of the choices I’ve made.
Goodwin: Like Bill Hannell, almost all the spectators are in their seats. So this begs the question: in terms of infection, is it okay for the crowd to be exposed to the duration of the game and scream out loud? In the weeks leading up to the season, it was strongly discouraged by many epidemiologists across the country. It’s about the risk of upper respiratory tract infections, which can spread to spectators who are unaware that they are infected with uninfected fans sitting next to them or in front of them.
Adrian Becks: You have to think of it as smoke.
GOODWYN: Adrian Bax is a biophysicist at the National Institutes of Health. “Imagine smokers lighting up a room full of people,” he says. Although large, empty spaces are somewhat filled with airborne smoke. Becks says these conditions present a significant risk of infection.
Now let’s go to the football stadium, where the wind is blowing. Here, our metaphor for smoke, corona virus, is thinner than the amount of moving air, its spread is not limited to walls and ceilings. NIH scientist Adrian Becks again.
BAX: Outside, the risk is very low. So even though Delta’s variations are so contagious, inside the stadium, it’s probably not that bad.
Goodwin: Unfortunately, not so bad in the United States. Not everything is so good. Every day, more than a thousand Americans die from the corona virus. It’s every day. It mostly reflects how many Americans remain unvaccinated. But in an effort to track down the virus at various universities across the country, they are monitoring dormitory sewerage for evidence of corona virus. Cindy Prince is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, where she is doing just that.
CINDY PRINS: We have a gator watch, so it has been a constant part of our epidemic response to detect COVID-19 cases by identifying viruses in sewers.
Good luck: When it comes to estimating the relative risk of infection to students in sports, this is hardly an accurate science. There are a lot of dormitory students who do not go to football games. Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person. Here is Professor Prince again.
PRINS: We don’t really see any correlation between the number of events and places or the positive levels we’re getting with wastewater testing. And we are not seeing an increase in cases.
GOODWYN: John Brooks, a senior science consultant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agrees.
John Brooks: For those who have been fully vaccinated and then in this outdoor environment, so far there is no real indication that this is a serious threat to transmission.
GOODWYN: Remember Adrian Becks, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health? At the end of our interview, I asked him if he would give me two free tickets to a college football game filled with 80,000 people.
BAX: I would say great, but I will appear with the N95 mask and sit with my wife with the N95 mask and avoid drinking any kind of indoor beer or any other kind of festivities. It’s perfectly safe if you’re outdoors, even in a stadium, as long as you wear a mask.
Goodwin: But most of the time, that’s not happening. Without a mask, chances of getting an infection in your stadium are probably good – no guarantee, though – but NIH scientist Adrian Becks and his N95 masked wife sitting there in Section 26 will surely flog you.
Wade Goodwin, NPR News, Dallas.
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