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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

When sports shut down last spring, it instantly made the pandemic feel more urgent and signaled just how drastically our lives were about to change.

What's happening: Now that fans are returning in droves, sports are once again acting as a barometer of the world's well-being and foreshadowing our future reality — only this time, it's a reality worth getting excited about.

  • Normalcy is on the way, and you don't have to look any further than Madison Square Garden for proof.

The state of play: After progressing through various stages — from complete shutdowns to playing in bubbles — it finally feels like the lights have been turned back on. And that's because we're finally getting the virus under control.

  • Cases: The pace of new infections in the U.S. fell by nearly 20% over the past week — the fifth straight week of double-digit declines.
  • Vaccines: Half of American adults are fully vaccinated, and roughly 62% of adults have gotten at least one shot, according to the CDC.
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Where it stands: Crowd limits are constantly changing, but one thing is true across the sports landscape: the numbers are only getting bigger.

  • 🏀 10 of the NBA's 16 playoff teams are admitting 10,000+ fans, and the Celtics (19,000), Heat (17,000), Hawks (16,000) and Mavericks (15,000) will host near full-capacity crowds this weekend.
  • 🏒 Every non-Canadian NHL playoff team is permitting thousands of fans, and the Predators will host the postseason's largest crowd tonight for Game 6 against the Hurricanes (14,107 fans).
  • 🏁 The Indy 500 will permit 135,000 fans this weekend, making it the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic.
  • ⚾️ Four MLB teams (Rangers, Braves, Astros, D-Backs) are at full capacity and five more (Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, Orioles, Indians) will join them over the next week. By July 5, 21 teams plan to be at 100% capacity, per The Athletic (subscription).
  • 🏈 All 32 NFL teams can host fans at training camp this summer, and 30 teams have already been approved to open at full capacity this fall.
  • ⛳️ The PGA Championship welcomed roughly 10,000 spectators last Sunday, producing a wild scene on the 18th fairway. The British Open is hopeful for 75% capacity in July.
  • ⚽️ Austin FC will christen its new stadium next month with a full-capacity crowd (20,500), and the same guidelines will be in the place for the USWNT's friendly three days earlier.

Of note: After being away from sports stadiums for months, some fans appear to have forgotten how to behave. On Wednesday night alone...

Go deeper

Updated Oct 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Pfizer booster has 95.6% efficacy, large study shows — FDA authorizes mix-and-match for booster shots — J&J expects $2.5 billion of vaccine sales this year.
  2. Health: Cases and deaths keep falling — White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11 — The global coronavirus vaccine gap — Gates Foundation to send $120 million of antiviral pills to lower-income countries.
  3. Politics: Reports: Brazil leader to be accused of crimes against humanity over COVID — Puerto Rico leads U.S. vaccination rates — Hawaii invites fully vaccinated travelers to return from Nov. 1.
  4. Education: Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states — LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations — Parent sues Wisconsin school district after child tests positive.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Sep 1, 2021 - Health

Texas school temporarily closes after two teachers die from COVID-19 in a week

American and Texas state flag. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A school in Texas closed for the rest of the week on Tuesday after two teachers died from COVID-19 within a week, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.

State of play: The campus at Connally Junior High School won't open until after Labor Day for deep sanitation, after sixth-grade social studies teacher Natalia Chansler died on Aug. 28, having notified the school three days earlier that she tested positive for COVID-19.

Sep 2, 2021 - Health

Fauci: Mu COVID variant not an "immediate threat" to U.S.

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci said at a press briefing Thursday that the coronavirus variant Mu, which the World Health Organization is now tracking, does not pose an immediate threat to the U.S.

Driving the news: WHO added the Mu strain, first detected in Colombia in January, to its "Variants of Interest" list Monday, warning that early data suggest it may be more resistant to protection from prior infection or vaccination.