COVID-19 Roundup: Fauci Versus October

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Fauci Warns Against October Baseball

While the very existence of a baseball season remains up in the air, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Los Angeles Times that he would advise against playing baseball in October, salary dispute aside. “If the question is time, I would try to keep it in the core summer months,” he said, before specifically saying October is a riskier time to play.

“The likelihood is that, if you stick to the core summer months, even though there is no guarantee… If you look at the kinds of things that could happen, there’s no guarantee of anything. You would want to do it at a time when there isn’t the overlap between influenza and the possibility of a fall second wave.”

If avoiding October play is the goal, there isn’t much time left. A 50-game season and regular-length playoff schedule would need to start by the middle of July at the very latest, which already looks difficult given the current state of negotiations. It would also require renegotiation of postseason TV contracts, not exactly a quick process in regular times. It’s simply a further obstacle to getting baseball back on the field.

When it does come back, though, Fauci will be there. Of his hometown Nationals allowing fans at games in 2021, he said: “Unless you have a dramatic diminution in cases, I would feel comfortable in spaced seating, where you fill one-half or one-third or whatever it is of the stadium, and everybody is required to wear a mask in the stadium.”

Texas, Arizona, and Florida COVID Cases Spike

MLB has avoided a “bubble” plan, the type they initially pitched in March and that the NBA and NHL have taken up as a way to host postseason tournaments. That leaves baseball at the mercy of local infection rates, and three states, two of which are home to multiple teams, are headed in a troubling direction.

Texas and Florida, and Arizona, the site of MLB’s proposed bubble, all reported record numbers of new COVID cases this week. All three states are in the midst of reopening. This isn’t an isolated problem — Oklahoma, Oregon, and Nevada all hit new highs in the past week as well — but the three warm-weather states are likely part of baseball’s plan for fallback sites in the event of a fall second wave.

Hospitalizations are up in all three states as well, and the situation is looking grim in Arizona. “ICU to be expanded, hopefully, in coming days,” Dr. Steven Oscherwitz, an infectious disease expert at Tucson Medical Center, said on Monday night. “Not sure where people needing ICU care will be able to go, since most AZ (Arizona) hospitals are pretty full now.”

Florida’s positive test rate is spiking, a sign that the new caseload isn’t merely due to expanded testing but also reflects an increase in viral spread. Texas may be in better shape, though it’s early to say for sure — the positive test rate bottomed out in May and has been creeping slowly higher ever since. Arizona’s is near 20%, nearly triple the other two states. A dispute between MLB and the MLBPA might not be the only thing holding up the season at this point.

Players and Staff Test Positive

During Monday’s MLB media blitz, the AP obtained a league memo stating that several players and staff have tested positive for COVID. That’s hardly surprising — baseball has a tremendous number of employees, and the US has more than two million confirmed cases so far; it would be more surprising if no one affiliated with the league were infected.

Still, it’s a reminder that getting back to play doesn’t solely mean agreeing on a number of games. The league and the players association remain close on health protocols, but they’ll still face obstacles in any return to the field. Finishing the season with no new COVID cases seems unlikely, even without the increased risk that comes with traveling to play games.

US Open To Take Place On Schedule

While sports leagues worldwide work towards new protocols and plans for resuming play, Andrew Cuomo announced that the US Open will take place on schedule in Queens this August. Tennis draws its top competitors from across the globe, which makes this move unexpected to say the least — Wimbledon has been canceled for the year, while the French Open is currently scheduled for October and is making significant logistical changes including greatly cutting the number of players invited.

Tennis players aren’t universally excited about playing in Flushing. Ash Barty, currently ranked No. 1 in the world and a presumptive favorite, expressed concern about playing overseas — she’s an Australian citizen, and the country has been successful in fighting COVID. Novak Djokovic, the clear men’s favorite, was even more resolute. He told Serbian TV station RTS that most players he talks with “were quite negative” about playing in the US Open and that for him, “most probably the season will continue on clay (in Europe) at the beginning of September.”

Baseball won’t face the same logistical hurdles — few of tennis’ top stars reside in the United States. But it’s a reminder that merely saying sports will be played doesn’t make it a picnic for the players, and doesn’t ensure that everything will go off without a hitch. Tennis is already back in the form of an exhibition currently being played in France features several top 10 players, with an extremely spread out schedule and a small field. But staging a mega-event like the US Open will be difficult, even with the state’s backing in making it happen.

We hoped you liked reading COVID-19 Roundup: Fauci Versus October by Ben Clemens!

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Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Syndergaardengnomes
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Syndergaardengnomes

With the caveat that I’m not a doctor, isn’t the idea of finishing by October contingent upon the idea that warmer weather helps to slow the virus?

And aren’t the rising numbers in countries such as Brazil, and states like NC, TX, and FL, where the weather has been very hot, kind of put a damper on the idea that warm weather is helping us?

D-Wiz
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Member
D-Wiz

There are competing factors here – reopening of society and more human contact vs. warm weather. From what I’ve read it seems pretty certain that warm weather does help reduce the spread of the virus (though by no means does it just make it go away), it’s just that the relaxing of social distancing, refusal by some to wear masks, people (incorrectly) thinking it’s okay to just go back to normal now, etc. has allowed the virus to spread more freely even in a more difficult environment for it.

MikeS
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Member
MikeS

I am a doctor, but not an epidemiologist.

It’s hard to say. You don’t know what the numbers would be like in Florida, Texas, and Arizona if they were in colder climates. Maybe it would be worse. You can compare March and April in those places to now, but it would be difficult to control for all variables like when stay at home orders were imposed/eased, how strictly those orders were followed, Spring Break, tourism (minimal), and a host of other things including the question that some of the data out of Florida may not be all that reliable – a scientist claims she was fired from the Health Department for refusing to massage the COVID data. I think all you can say is that sunshine, warm weather, and humidity are nowhere near 100% protective.

As far as Brazil goes, I doubt that we are getting accurate COVID data from there. Bolsonaro has managed to handle the situation there even worse than Trump here. I’ve been hearing from months from Brazilian physicians that the situation is very, very bad there. Poor people especially are dying without ever getting into a hospital and whether those deaths and cases are getting counted accurately is extremely unlikely in their opinion. Their testing rate is about one tenth the US. Places like Sao Paolo and Rio de Janiero are the perfect place for an epidemic to spread. High population density, low GDP per capita, big wealth gap, very poor public health services for the uninsured. The poor have good access to healthcare in Brasil, but it is of questionable quality.

tz
Member

Two things to keep in mind:

1. In certain locations, rising numbers of positive cases may simply be a byproduct of more widespread testing, which would have the impact of causing the reported incidence rate to “catch up” to the true incidence rate. This is likely part of the reason for the recent rapid rise of reported positive cases in India, for example.

2. Attempting to predict the spread of COVID-19 is so fraught with unknowns that FiveThirtyEight, who are in the business of forecasting fearlessly, won’t go anywhere near prognosticating future incidence or mortality from COVID-19. So anyone’s guess made before, say, late July or August, is bound to be based on so much noise in the hypothetical models and supporting data that they should be taken with a grain, nay, a full saltlick of salt.

John Elway
Member

(LMHAO….too easy)

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

Everyone else responding to you has made excellent comments, but it’s important to note that places like NC, TX, AZ, AL, and FL are just entering the time of year where it’s very unpleasant to be outside AND they relaxed a whole bunch of restrictions on gathering indoors. It’s unlikely that heat or sunlight is going to make much of a difference about indoor transmission, but I would not be surprised if people started interacting way, way more and primarily indoors recently.

In contrast, northern states are just entering the pleasant outdoor season and they mostly have restrictions in place (or have relaxed them slower). Here, sunlight and heat could help quite a bit.

In any case, this is all moot IMO because we’re not out of the first wave yet, so worrying about the second is a bit ridiculous. It’s possible that places like NY and MI can beat it back for a time (they’ve made huge progress), but it’s going to be hard to keep it out if other states aren’t as vigilant.

eudfarfig
Member
Member
eudfarfig

Brazil is in late fall right now

bluerum29
Member
bluerum29

An uptick in cases about 2 weeks after a bunch of people decided to get together and walk the streets in addition to more testing being done. Shocked that cases are going up, I don’t think so.
On the other hand, what are these masks you speak of?