The Texas Rangers held their home opener yesterday, as promised at full capacity at their new (if you don’t count the games last season with no fans or the NLCS and World Series with some fans) stadium. Did every news outlet on earth give it in-depth coverage, so that readers could google in awe and/or horror at Texans packed cheek to jowl watching sports during a pandemic? With sweet, sweet clicks at stake, what do you think?
Let’s start with the New York Times, which used an Associated Press drone (I think) to capture people waiting to get in to the park in socially distanced lines, sort of:
You can’t tell all that much from that image. For one thing, are those fans wearing masks, as the Rangers and MLB said would be required? Or ignoring the mask requirement, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott encouraged them to do? Let’s take a closer look inside the stadium:
That’s not a lot of masks! Of course, there is a loophole to the mask requirement at ballgames this year, which is that you can remove them while actively eating and drinking. This photo, though, as should immediately be apparent, was taken during the national anthem, when presumably most people are not eating or drinking. “Sorry, I can’t put my mask on, I’m busy chewing on patriotism!”
Let’s next try the opposite end of the news spectrum from the New York Times, KULR-TV in Billings, Montana, which was likewise all over the story with an item headlined “Maskless fans pack sold out stadium in stunning display,” though it turned out just to link to a CNN video:
That’s epidemiologist Michael Osterholm in the corner, about to say that “already we’re seeing the surge” in places like Michigan and Minnesota despite those states ramping up vaccinations, saying in the next six to ten weeks, we’re going to have more viral spread thanks to reopenings and not yet enough shots to counter it.
Want your packed-stadium photos in pointless-video form? We got that too:
So this is what a packed ballpark feels like?! Almost forgot. What a sight! pic.twitter.com/L4nz2lc7fi
— Sam Gannon (@SamGannon87) April 5, 2021
As we’ve discussed here before, pandemics are not clean-cut moral dilemmas, so there’s no sure way of knowing what the result of the Rangers’ experiment with non-distancing will be. The roof was open, so there was tons of air circulation, but also people were right next to each other largely without masks on, which is pretty much the only good way to get infected while outside:
“The risk is lower outdoors, but it’s not zero,” said Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “And I think the risk is higher if you have two people who are stationary next to each other for a long time, like on a beach blanket, rather than people who are walking and passing each other.”
One recent study found that just talking can launch thousands of droplets that can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes. But the risk of inhaling those droplets is lower outdoors.
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens over the 4 to 14 days before passing judgment on whether the Rangers owners were unthinkably reckless or acceptably reckless here. And even then, it may come down as much to luck as to good or bad planning, as a handful of people shedding virus in the wrong place can easily make the difference between explosive spread and not much. At least Rangers execs limited full attendance to opening day — they’re switching to distanced seating after yesterday’s game — which should make for an excellent controlled experiment in how much difference distance makes in preventing viral spread at outdoor, unmasked events. Those sports team owners, always thinking about the future journal articles!