No, seriously, what will happen in restarted sports leagues when a player tests positive?

Amidst all the so very many articles on when sports leagues may or could or are thinking of restarting, I’ve been keeping an eye out for discussion of one important question: If a league starts play, with precautions for testing players and coaches and TV crews and hotel workers and whatever, what happens when one of those tests comes up positive? And finally, one league has provided an answer:

Fans will be barred from games until the [Korea Baseball Organization] is convinced the risk of infection has been minimized. If any member of a team tests positive for the coronavirus at any point of the season, the league will be shut down for at least three weeks.

If you’re serious about using testing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through your league, this makes total sense: Any positive test needs to be followed by quarantine of everyone who has had contact with that person in recent days, which in the case of a sports league is going to mean pretty much everyone in the league. It’s going to make for an awfully tentative schedule — not to mention a dicey ESPN programming schedule — but in a nation where they’ve been averaging only seven new cases per day over the last week in a population of 52 million people, I guess they figure it’s a gamble worth taking.

But what if you can’t reasonably expect to test everyone and have everyone test negative? That’s what we’re seeing right now in the Bundesliga in Germany — 1,000 new cases per day out of a population of 83 million — and the way it’s being managed is very different:

Two days before German government officials will announce whether the country’s top two professional soccer leagues may resume play amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Bundesliga officials confirmed Monday that they had encountered 10 positive tests in their attempt to finish the season.

In all, the governing DFL announced Monday, 1,724 players, coaches, team physicians and other staff members have been tested. At least four of the positive tests came from players — three from Cologne and one “inconclusive result” from second-division Stuttgart on a player who has been quarantined for 14 days — and all 10 who tested positive are not believed to be displaying any symptoms of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to the New York Times.

That was yesterday. Today:

The German Bundesliga season can resume this month, Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed.

So … what’s the point of all that testing, if not to quarantine those who’ve been in close contact with anyone who tests positive? The Bundesliga has said it will be testing everyone twice a week, but that’s still plenty of time for a player or staffer to catch and spread Covid-19 in between tests, if they’re not quarantined.

Now, there’s an argument to be made that a perfect quarantine isn’t necessary: You really only need to keep R0 (the average number of that each infected person in turn infects) below 1, and any new outbreak will fizzle out. The Bundesliga is adding a ton of other social distancing rules, from requiring that players shower and dress separately to keeping starting lineups to be kept separate from substitutes for meals and warmups, so maybe that will be enough to keep transmission rates low — maybe. You’ll have some individuals getting infected, almost surely, but if it’s only a few, on a societal level it won’t cause devastating effects. (Of course, if you’re a player who comes down with Covid and risks spreading it to your family members as a result, you may not find it quiet so reassuring that you’re statistically insignificant.)

And if R0 can’t be kept low enough to stop one Bundesliga player or staffer from turning into a superspreader? No one seems to have thought about that, or maybe no one can bear to think about it out loud. German soccer officials have previously warned that 13 teams could be on the brink of insolvency if the season doesn’t resume, so apparently not shutting down until there’s an actual out-of-control outbreak is the gamble they’re willing to take.

And for sports leagues in nations like the U.S. (27,000 new cases per day in a population of 328 million), clearly even thinking about what to do in case of a positive test result is unthinkable, because no one is mentioning it aloud. In fact, sports leagues (and the sports journalists who uncritically reprint their pronouncements) aren’t mentioning lots of things aloud right now, as witness this article from CBS Miami on contingency plans for a Miami Dolphins restart:

Masks would be required. Fans would order concessions from their seats to be picked up later rather than waiting on line.

Okay, so everyone would wear masks, and to avoid close contact with fellow fans they would stay out of concession lines and instead pick up their food one at a time, and then go back to their seats and eat it … through their masks … um, CBS Miami, I have some followup questions? Hello?

Friday roundup: Sports remains mostly dead, but train subsidies and bizarre vaportecture live on

It’s been a long, long week for many reasons, so let’s get straight to the news if that’s okay: