As a professor of infectious-disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Adam Kucharski has been very busy watching Premier League action in recent weeks. “I was working, unfortunately,” he says. Then, as a football fan in England, he did not survive the play covering his favorite sport.
Earlier this month, even as Britain entered its third lockdown of the epidemic, government officials granted a special exemption to continue “elite” pro-sports. The results have not been particularly pretty on the pitch: a half-dozen Premier League players revolted from their clubs to attend holiday parties. The viral video showed crowded locker rooms in which full-throated songs were played without any celebration. A COVID-19 outbreak forced Aston Villa to play Liverpool with a roster of U-23 and U-18 prospects, many of whom were abandoned by their parents, seeing that they were too much to drive Were small.
Against the backdrop of growing cases and deaths, these evil-sighted incidents have raised thorny questions across the pond, in large part due to a new, highly communicable change of COVID-19. “Obviously there are bubble systems with the NBA and other leagues and in some cases it has been very successful,” says Kucharski. “But it becomes difficult with large amounts of community transmission. So cutting those questions: Which activities do we want to prioritize? … and I think some countries will soon have to make some hard decisions about what to keep open.
In the US, it was hoped that these issues were left behind last summer, when the league resumed playing in so-called bubbles from so-called pandemic hibernation; Instead, like viruses, they are growing in force of late. After unsuccessful trials, the Browns lost two cornerbacks and their coach Kevin Stefanski for the playoff game; The Packers lost an offensive lineman. The NBA, facing disintegrated rosters, postponed 13 games between January 13 and January 10. And in the NHL, 17 infected skaters outbreak at the Western Conference-Champion Stars’ training camp.
As bad as it may sound, the UK is quick to notice what may happen soon. In particular, the rapid emergence of many agber-contagious COVID-19 variants around the world – particularly the one wreaking havoc on British life – is expected to increase the risk of America turning to devastating disease. Already, the hospital system is buckling once again. New death records are created every day. The apparent vaccine rollout in Tuscaloosa is causing a moderately slow and epidemic fatigue, which could soon feel the consequences of a possible superspreader event that would have Alabama fans celebrating the sixth college football national title of the Nick Saban era . However, the worst can happen still is yet to come.
“This happens when you’re reading a thriller,” says Alessandro Vespigny, director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University, whose research focuses on modeling epidemics. “We have the vaccine deployed. We’re looking at the light at the end of the tunnel Were. We can put this disease in the history books. … Then we got this twist in the plot and we say, ‘This tunnel is a little long, and going to the end is a bit complicated.’ “
Viruses are mutated all the time. This was the first point by each of the eight medical experts consulted for this story. “It’s important background that there are tons and tons of mutations,” says hospital epidemiologist Sheera Doran of Tufts Medical Center. “And usually they don’t really change anything about the virus. They alter the genetic code, but they do not make the virus different.
“In this case, it was discovered that this one genetic variant was outpacing others in its prevalence and incidence, particularly around London. When you see someone being more normal than others, you have to go: what is that? “
First detected by UK scientists in late September, the B117 lineage of COVID-19 has since spread to some 50 countries, including the US, where its presence was confirmed in 14 states through Friday. Characterized by several types of mutations, the spike protein includes several that the virus uses to infiltrate host cells, this variant also claiming a faster secondary attack rate. In other words: it spreads rapidly. “A lot of data is pointing to, potentially, a 40% to 50% increase in transmission,” Kucharski says. “If it is actually 50% higher … the current measures that were just about controlling that those circulating would not be enough with this new version.”
Although this one version is not believed to increase the risk of a single person’s serious illness, it will still hurt overall, and in more cases there will be excessive congestion on ICUs and an increase in the number of deaths. Fortunately, scientists believe that Pfizer / BioNotech and Modern Vaccine will be effective against this version — but whether those vaccines are delivered on time will cause further damage. “This window,” Kucharski says, “is important.”
So far, research has shown no indication that this variant transmits in different ways than common coronaviruses (which move largely through aerial droplets). But because government funding for genomic testing of new mutations is minimal — “a big hole in our epidemic response,” says Doron – there’s really little information about it Why the This one is more contagious. Or, for that matter, what it means for public health guidelines to follow. “Six feet may not be enough,” says Penn State developmental microbiologist Andrew Reid. “We don’t know.”
One thing, however, it seems certain: some highly contagious versions will spread widely in the US, and soon. “It can be a disaster,” says Doron, “because it’s coming to the top of the boom after a holiday, one on top of every part of this country [infection] upswing, very full hospital. … If you add anything, you’re tying the health care system to the breaking point. “
And since Pro Sports is a microcosm of the country, it’s not hard to guess what the NBA and NHL’s prospects have in store for them. “I doubt we’ll find variants in the systems of those sports leagues,” says Johns Hopkins infectious disease specialist Amesh Adalja. And he “takes bets.” Meaning: If you have a new version case on your bench, it is more likely that you are going to get more cases. “
Until this happens, the same basic health and safety recommendations remain in force. “There is no reason to think that precautions such as masks, handwashing, social distancing will have any effect,” says Nick Davis, another epidemiologist at LSHTM. “This means that those procedures need to be followed very strictly.”
If there are cracks in the defenses, they are likely to be exploited more infectiously. Some time ago, the Celtics Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams entered into quarantine after allegedly sharing a maskless car ride with infected teammate Robert Williams. Neither player caught the virus, but next time they may not be so lucky.
“It’s a no-brainer that out-of-game stuff” – talking face-to-face after a game, or, partying without masks, as recently fined Nets guard Kyrie Irving for $ 50,000 Gaya – “If people really want to play,” says Doron, they should not interact with each other completely. Go home, relax, come back to the game. But if you are talking about one. Contact the game, there is no way to eliminate that risk. Testing can reduce this. But when you are going within six feet of people and touching people, there is no way. “
The possible consequences of another viral wave are acute. In the NBA, the Raptors have moved to Tampa; In the NHL, the Sharks were forced to conduct training camps in Scottsdale, Ariz. But what if regional lockdowns grow more widely? Each of those leagues produced a successful bubble before vowing not to return in 2021. How would they react if there was a choice between another separation or another suspension of the game? And what is the limit for that break-glass scenario? When it is not responsible to keep the country separate to play the game?
For now, these leagues are selling ahead. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email, “monitoring the events but nothing else at this point.” “The variant has not caused us to modify our protocol at this point.” Meanwhile, the NBA tightened its rules last week, restricting premarket locker room meetings to at least 10 minutes, withholding hotel guests across the street and, among other new measures. “In ongoing consultations with the CDC and infectious disease specialists, we are taking measures to address the continuing challenges of the epidemic, including new viral strains,” emailed John DiFiori, director of sports medicine. (An NFL spokesperson recently pointed to an NFL Network presence by Chief Medical Officer Alan Sills, who said the league was “investigating any new positive cases for genes that would characterize one of these new variants”). “
Many experts envisaged creative roles for these leagues in combating what comes ahead in this epidemic. The NBA partnered with Yale researchers during the playoff on the grebring saliva test; Either of these leagues can fill a similar gap to finance genomic testing. “I will not tell them is To do this, but the more people we have the sequencing, “Adalja says,” the more likely we are to discover new variants and understand them. “At the very least, experts say, athletes and team staff should set precedents for the general public – which has not always been the case. The team, citing a recent letter from the Premier League leadership, reminded players that Hagging, high-flying or jersey swapping with opponents is prohibited. “No more … go to a nightclub in the midst of an epidemic,” says virologist Ellie Gaunt of the University of Edinburgh.
Maybe, if everything goes right, the games somehow chug through the winter in such a way that the players and the rest of us are hanged tight. Until we reach the end of that tunnel.
“Obviously we want sports, and we want activities that provide comfort and fun,” says Vespignani. “And I think it’s difficult for professional players – especially to play in an area where there is no audience, to live in a bubble apart from the family.” But these are difficulties that we all face in different ways. Children do not go to school. We work from home. So we all need to face this for a few months and be very strict with the rules.
“It’s like in football. We are in the Red Zone. You want to keep pushing. This is not a moment to think about rest or victory celebration. We need to cross the line. “
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