Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week announced that outdoor sports stadiums would be allowed to admit fans at 25% capacity this summer, which seemed optimistic given that simple geometry shows that anything much over 15% would require fans to be way too close together to obey social-distancing requirements. But that clearly wasn’t enough to get sports teams scurrying to reopen the gates, so yesterday Abbott raised the attendance cap to 50%, effective immediately.
Presumably Abbott’s goal here is to “get the economy going,” which sort of makes economic sense in this sense, since the middle of a pandemic-spawned crash is the one time that sports events don’t just siphon off money that would otherwise be spent elsewhere. (Jigsaw puzzle sales, maybe, but most of those will be from out-of-state.) It makes zero epidemiological sense, though, since even if the virus doesn’t spread nearly as well in outdoor spaces, sitting right next to someone (or in the row ahead of someone) for hours at a time is a great way to get a concentrated blast of virus. Which might be okay if this were, say, Iceland, where there are very few new cases and those are quickly caught by widespread testing and contact tracing and quarantine, but Texas is distinctly not Iceland, as the Dallas Morning News notes way down in its 10th paragraph:
Abbott’s new order comes just three days after the state set a single-day high of positive tests. Texas has reported three of its four highest days of positive tests since March within the last week.
Or in graph form:
And before anyone asks, no, that’s not because more people in Texas are getting tested, because they’re not:
(Abbott did add that most of the new cases are in “isolated hot spots in nursing homes, jails, and meat packing plants,” which apparently isn’t a risk because meat packing plant workers and nursing home aides never go to sporting events.)
Sports leagues and event organizers, to their credit, appear to be responding to the governor’s twin announcements with a resounding What are you smoking? Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said that “nobody wants to have the stands filled with fans more than me but we’re just not in a position to do that yet,” and no other major sports leagues seem interested in reopening their gates to any fans at all anytime soon. And it’s certainly possible that Abbott knows this: He could just be announcing that fans can go back to attending games so that he can score “reopen America” points with those who think that’s a good idea, all the while knowing that neither sports owners nor sports fans have much interest in being guinea pigs for giant public petri dishes.
The far greater concern, honestly, is that Abbott also allowed bars and restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity, which is an even worse idea than stadiums, as bars and restaurants are 1) indoors and 2) places where people don’t like to wear masks, as that makes it really hard to drink and eat. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an instructive chart showing how the coronavirus was spread by a single diner at one restaurant in China; take a look at that, then tell me how well limiting capacity to 50% is likely to go. Guess we’ll find out for sure in five to six weeks; unfortunately it’ll be too late to stop tons of additional people from dying and keep from having to return to more stringent lockdowns if things went badly, but you can’t make a return to normalcy without breaking a few lives! Unless you’re Iceland, anyway.