Dr. Anthony Fauci says the NFL may need a "bubble" — like the NBA and MLS are planning at Walt Disney World — in order to make this season work.
"Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall. If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year."— Fauci, per CNN
🎙 The NFL's response: I spoke with Dr. Allen Sills, NFL chief medical officer, about Fauci's comments and how the league is preparing for the season. In short, there is no plan for a single "bubble." Instead, Sills views each team as its own "ecosystem."
The news of the day was Fauci's "bubble" comment. I also saw you said on Wednesday that constructing a bubble would not be "practical or appropriate." Is that still the NFL's stance, and if so, why?
- "What we're trying to do is mitigate risk for everybody inside what I call the 'team ecosystem,' which to me means the players, the coaches, the strength and conditioning staff, the medical staff — everybody who is going to be together throughout the course of the season.
- "All of those individuals are going to share the same risk of being infected because they're going be together all season. They're also going to share the same responsibility to each other to practice appropriate public health guidelines and minimize their own individual risk, which thereby minimizes the risk for the entire group.
- "I think Dr. Fauci pointed out the challenging features of this situation — the need for very frequent testing and surveillance, a rigorous tracing program, immediate identification and isolation of new cases — and those are the things we've been working on.
- "The ecosystem concept is one that we've been working on throughout the offseason and continue to form a basis of our protocols around. It's a different concept obviously than everybody being at one single site and nobody coming in and out."
So instead of a "bubble," you're talking about a bunch of mini "team bubbles?"
- "'Bubble' isn't a medical term, so I prefer 'ecosystem' because I feel like it encompasses the fact that it's everybody who is together with shared responsibility and shared risk."
With the NFL season still months away, have you benefitted from being able to watch other leagues who have resumed play or are hoping to do so soon?
- "Absolutely. I'm in very regular communication with the chief medical officers of the other American professional sports leagues, and I also talk regularly with medical officials from international leagues.
- "It's been a very collaborative effort, and we're able to share learnings and source ideas from each other. Despite the differences in our sports, in reality, we're all facing the same challenges."
While you have the benefit of watching other leagues, you also have the threat of a second wave in the fall and a constantly-shifting coronavirus landscape. How do you prepare for a season that's still so far away?
- "The phrase that we've been using over and over again is 'We have to be flexible and adaptable.' I fully expect the protocols that we put in place at the start of training camp to evolve and change as new knowledge becomes available.
- "If you think about how long it's been since all this started — sheltering at home, quarantining — it feels like a really long time. But it's been about 100 days, and that's roughly the same amount of time that we have between now and the start of our season.
- "We've seen tremendous progress made already in these past 100 days, and I expect we're going to continue to see a rapid emergence of new knowledge during these next 100 days in regards to things like treatment, new preventative strategies and our understanding of transmissibility."
Paint a picture of what the 2020 NFL season might look like. Will we have "football as usual" in the fall?
- "I remain very optimistic that we will be playing football this fall as we've laid out, but I don't think it's going to be 'football as usual.'
- "There are going to be a lot of changes in the way that we do things, from how we practice, to how we lay out our facilities, to how we travel, to how we organize sidelines and the on-field experience.
- "One of our athletic trainers probably expressed it best when he said, 'It's not going to feel normal because it's not going to be normal.'"