New state coronavirus plans: Reopen sports venues and concerts, see if people start dropping dead

It is becoming increasingly clear that the answer to “How will sports and concerts and other things in the U.S. reopen?” is “However the hell individual governors feel like it, and damn the science.” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared last week that concert venues can now reopen if concertgoers socially distance (though Missouri concert venues have been decidedly uninterested in booking shows just yet); Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson followed that up on Saturday with the announcement that arenas and stadiums can reopen at one-third capacity, which it doesn’t take complex math to see isn’t going to work too well if you want to ensure six feet between each set of fans. (Taiwan, the only nation so far to resume sports in front of live fans, has been limiting baseball stadiums to between 5% and 10% of capacity.)

In the absence of any federal plan, however, nothing is stopping governors from making up their own rules, which means we’re likely going to see a patchwork of reopenings under different social-distancing guidelines in the weeks and months ahead. That could potentially be very, very bad for sports- and concertgoers in those states (and anyone who potentially comes in contact with them, which is to say pretty much everyone who lives in those states) if it turns out sitting three seats away from your nearest neighbor while masked isn’t enough to stop the spread of Covid-19. [UPDATE: Just spotted some new evidence that social distancing is essentially useless indoors, though masks may help some here.] Arkansas and Missouri both have had relatively low death tolls from the virus so far, but also their new case rates haven’t even started to come down from the peaks they reached a month ago, though at least Missouri can claim that this is a positive sign since it’s massively scaled up testing in that time period.

On the bright side, if you can call it a bright side, all these differing state-by-state rules should make a nice controlled experiment in the effects of lifting various restrictions: If you’re an elected official wondering whether to reopen bars, say, you can just look a couple of states over and count the dead bodies to see how that’s likely to go. It’s also going to make a shambles of any plans for sports leagues to restart with all teams in their home venues — check out this hilarious CBS Sports article about how MLB plans to start its season in July, with its 12th-paragraph aside that “all travelers to Canada are subject to a 14-day quarantine, which could create headaches for the [Toronto] Blue Jays and their opponents” — but as we’re seeing with the Bundesliga’s attempts to restart its season despite the entire Dynamo Dresden team being AWOL for two weeks while quarantining after two players tested positive, any resumption of sports is necessarily going to have to be tentative and subject to rapid change if people start getting sick and/or dropping dead.

And, really, any resumption of anything, now that it’s becoming ever more clear that a single weeks-long shutdown isn’t going to do anything more than buy some more time for hospitals to catch their breaths, and doctors to work on better treatments, and cities and states to ramp up testing and contact tracing capacity (after first engaging in the requisite petty political bickering over it) while we await a vaccine — something that’s not a 100% sure thing to arrive even in 2021, or ever. It would be very nice to wait for science to provide answers to key questions like “Are schools key transmission vectors?” and “Are surfaces relatively safe compared to contact with actual people or do we need armies of disinfectant-spraying drones?” before we start going back out in public, but it looks like most political leaders (in the U.S. especially, but elsewhere too) aren’t willing to wait for the slow grind of scientific research. So instead we’ll get a series of mass experiments, with human beings as guinea pigs. Get your tickets now!

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20 comments on “New state coronavirus plans: Reopen sports venues and concerts, see if people start dropping dead

  1. Sounds like the Jays will be guaranteed a .500 season… all forfeits either to or by them, but still…

    Is it too soon to recall that this administration has been cutting funding for infectious disease research (and healthcare in general) annually?

    At present it seems more likely that the so called decision to “reopen” the economy is more an effort (by both federal and state governments) to avoid responsibility/liability for the negative results of keeping businesses closed.

    “Yes, you can reopen”. But we are going to put so many restrictions on you that it won’t really be possible for you to run your business effectively. But it’s totally up to you so don’t blame us when you either reopen and your business fails or you stay closed and it fails. Or your customers die in large numbers and their survivors file civil claims against you.

    Just remember that whatever happens, it’s not our fault. BTW, we are doing a tremendous job and don’t believe the statistics.

    1. To be honest the whole reopen business is pretty emblematic of a culture that does not value results or accountability. There are places that have done effective social, public health and cultural actions that have let to low and/or declining cases of COVID 19. Some are also just geographically lucky. But the point is they get to re-open as a reward–Americans want a reward for maybe trying/doing the least we can.

      I think New Brunswick is an interesting case (maybe Bluejays can play games in Moncton!). They have had a very low COVID rate (also PEI has had 27 cases and none resulted in hospitalization). The biggest thing that helped them is the closed Maine border–even Quebecois and Ottawans would likely drive through Maine to visit (driving around Maine’s giant forehead is at least an hour and a half). But they essentially closed their other border as well. The biggest airport is the small one in Fredricton and it is doing one flight in and one flight out a day. They are also stopping stopping everyone on the open Quebec and NS borders to ask about their visit. Unlike other tourist areas they have NOT allowed people to come to NB just because they own property their (has to be primary residence). Anyway, they are “re-opening” internally but still keeping border restrictions.

  2. Anyone who’s worked retail in the past decade or so will tell you that NO guidelines will be followed. People will be crowded next to each other, many not wearing masks. The bottom line will be sales, sales, sales. They’re just saying they’ll “cautiously” reopen to get the green light. When the cat’s away…

    1. That’s not true currently in NYC: I went to the drugstore yesterday, and there were staff at the door only allowing in ten shoppers at any given time, with masks required and plexiglass shields at checkout counters. People even stayed separated by six feet on line outside, which was impressive given that New Yorkers aren’t exactly known for being rule-followers.

  3. Just noticed this article indicating that long periods of indoor exposure are by far the main risk factor for transmission — social distancing indoors is effectively useless. (Though masks indoors likely can help.) I added it as an update above, but also noting here for anyone who already read the original post:

    1. Early on in the EPL/FA discussions on resuming play the case was made by some that closing the matches to spectators would result in them congregating outside the stadium (which they did), congregating in pubs, or (maybe worst of all) congregating in friends flats or houses to watch together. There was no data on any of this, of course, but it is certainly possible (and perhaps likely) that sitting in the stands outdoors watching your favourite team play is safer than watching in a crowded and poorly ventilated pub.

      Whether the risk involved in the entire process of getting to the stadium and home again offsets any real or perceived gain from being outdoors vs indoors, I don’t know.

  4. I have followed these re-openings fairly closely and I have yet to find anything about anyone being forced to leave their homes. What am I missing here?

    1. WBF, the only thing you’re missing is the compulsion to wallow in feelings of helplessness, and/or the urge to tattle and scold. Without that, you simply look at the evidence and reach very different conclusions:
      * If you’re in a high-risk group (old, diabetic, obese, hypertension) you should stay home and wait for the the vaccine. Tell people you’re in contact with that you are high-risk and that anyone who might have been exposed should stay away. Basically what we’re all being told to do anyway.
      * If you’re not in a high-risk group, treat Covid as you would the flu, as the risk appears to be pretty much the same. If you want to get wildly rational (not that reason carries much water in our age of feelings) think about Covid the same way you do as driving, smoking, eating fast food, or any number of lifestyle choices which have potentially negative health impacts.
      * If you are not in a high-risk group but know someone who is high-risk, you have to decide how to live your life for the next year to 18 months. If you chose to freely circulate, you must also chose not to put your friend/family at risk, unless they give you permission.

      Other than that we should be resuming our lives. The evidence has been coming in more clearly for some time now that the vast majority of Covid exposures result in no or mild symptoms. Unless, of course, you are in a high-risk group, in which case you need to be very careful.

      I never really understood what FDR meant by having nothing to fear but fear itself, but his words have never rung more true. We’ve thrown at least a hundred million people around the globe out of work, and the economic, educational, and political repercussions will be felt for decades. All because we feel afraid, and our need for emotional validation demands actions that demonstrate we have a reason to be afraid. And so it goes.

      Neil is right about one thing. Given the pathetic and utterly inept response by a narcissistic president and his covey of boot-licking sycophants, we are carrying out an array of field trials that will demonstrate the validity of many different points of view about the pandemic. Get your tickets now indeed.

      1. Half of all American adults have hypertension alone, so when you add in people over 50, people with diabetes, etc., the number of Americans in the high-risk group is well over 150 million. And their health depends on everyone else not infecting them, so if the few young and healthy people “resume their lives,” that’s going to create a stew of virus that will make it impossible for anyone else to leave their homes for the next year or so.

        If you’re staying home out of fear, you’re doing it wrong. You need to stay home — or at least away from sustained indoor interactions, which look to be the main way this thing is spread — in order not to kill your friends, family, neighbors, and distant strangers.

      2. “All because we feel afraid…”

        Perhaps you can call it fear, but in this case it was a perfectly rational fear. Taking prudent steps in the face of something that’s not understood, is spreading rapidly and is killing people is the only rational response.

        Those “economic, educational, and political repercussions” aren’t coming because of fear, they’re coming because the world has been hit by what may be the biggest natural disaster in human history. The world made the decision to trade significant economic disruption for hundreds of thousands of lives.

        Sadly, we’re a country with far too many lacking the empathy and intelligence to avoid a “Hey, I didn’t die, nobody I know died, so why did we have to do this?” backlash. Even worse, one notable empathy-devoid individual is counting on it.

      3. You lost me at “(not that reason carries much water in our age of feelings)”. Ok boomer, missing the old days?

  5. I am over 50 and take high blood pressure medicine. But reality is I need to work in order to pay bills ( going hungry and homeless cannot allowed to be an option). But there are ways to mitigate the Coronavirus issue. I always wear a mask and hat at work, the lady of the home does all of the food shopping, collects the mail and insists on disposable utensils and other stuff that is needed or wanted van be purchased online.

    1. I’m really interested to see some studies on the effectiveness of masks in indoor situations like schools and offices, because that’s going to be huge in determining how this epidemic progresses. Especially since it’s becoming clear that social distancing is all but useless indoors:

    2. Seriously, “lady of the home”??? That’s a more offensive term than housewife.

  6. COVID-19 (and most all virus for that matter) don’t do well exposed to sunlight and warm temperatures! You would be hard-pressed to prove that you are more likely to contract COVID and die at an outdoor Major League Baseball game than you are killed driving to the stadium.

    1. I can prove it in a single URL:

      1. I am sure it was the soccer match and had nothing to do with international direct flights from Wuhan to Milian. Likewise, Northern Italy is cold during the winter unlike outdoor MLB stadium in June and July

    2. Coronavirus does die quickly in sunlight, but that doesn’t help if someone breathes directly on you, or high-fives you, or whatever. With masks and reduced attendance to create space between fans and (crucially) super-low infection rates and lots of testing and contact tracing to control any outbreaks, it might be workable for outdoor sports only — we’ll find out after a few more weeks of baseball in Taiwan.

      1. “but that doesn’t help if someone breathes directly on you” True, though I may point out physics dictates that higher humidity limits the range droplet can travel by close to 50%. Likewise, if you under 80 and healthy you are extremely unlikely to die of COVID. (see NBA players that all remained symptom-free after testing positive) If you are exposed and remain asymptomatic, you help with the development of herd immunity that can halt the spread of the disease throughout populations.

        1. “if you under 80 and healthy you are extremely unlikely to die of COVID”

          Most people are unlikely to die of Covid, even if they get infected. But that doesn’t mean that a couple million people in the U.S. won’t die if the virus goes unchecked.

          And there aren’t enough people who are young and have no preexisting conditions to create herd immunity. Even if you held a giant coronavirus party in the desert solely for people under 50 with no high blood pressure or diabetes, then made everyone stay there until they had all gotten infected and recovered (with only a few tens of thousands of them dying), you still wouldn’t have a viable firebreak for everyone else.

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