I’d like to begin with a little introduction. Before I went to law school, I was a graduate student trying to earn my PhD in Public Health from one of the world’s premiere institutions for epidemiology — UAB, in a joint program with the University of Alabama. After completing my coursework, and passing my comps, it became time to focus on a dissertation topic and complete that dread project. But, saddled with a small child and perma-poverty, I left graduate training to take a job. Baby gotta’ eat.
I love data. I am an empiricist by heart. And I am skeptic of bold claims backed up by little more than feels, hunches, political wish-thinking, self-interest, and hot takes.
For nearly six months, I have been disgusted by nearly every level of our society fundamentally ignoring the risks posed by this grotesque import from the People’s Republic of China, and actively covered up by the Communist party and its enablers in our international public health bodies. Epidemiology is inherently a complicated field of study with incredibly complicated and multifarious factors of play. That makes it difficult enough without the added impediments of ideological bubbles, social media, America’s generally piss-poor science education, and intentional obfuscation of the issues for personal, monetary or political gain.
A Wikipedia entry and an internet connection qualifies us to do just one thing — read that Wikipedia entry; nothing more.
And, it is for this reason that for nearly six months, fully cognizant of the data and models, and limitations of the data and the models they generate, that I have been pessimistic about a season being played — even less so did I think it was a good idea.
But, that thinking has now changed. Or, to be more exact, it has evolved. And, as with so many things, this conclusion has changed because the facts have changed.
Yet, as the facts have changed on the ground, too many people are mired in outdated thinking. Policy makers, and particularly the sports media, are viewing the Coronavirus as the situation stood in April, not as it presently faces us in August.
The thesis relies on a simple fact that we must apprehend: Our chance to prevent endemic spread of this terrifying virus has passed. The chance to mitigate months of denial and the lack of early coordinated efforts blew past us like that jerk neighbor with a Dodge Charger at 2:00 a.m. We have lost the opportunity to correct course after rash and myopic reopenings, which themselves came on the heels of largely half-assed, half-hearted attempts at prevention.
It’s too late. Far, far too late. COVID-19 is among us, among all of us, in every village and hamlet and city and state, and — unless you are in New Zealand or Antarctica — it is in every nation and on every continent.
It is everywhere, and we have only ourselves to blame.
Yet, we can find some faint glimmer of hope in this national failure, as it pertains to athletic competition.
August is not March, and those clinging to that notion — particularly sports media — do a disservice to everyone by only showing half the portrait.
After living with this beast for six months, we know a lot more about COVID-19 than we did in February or March.
Chief among them is its transmissibility, for a start. While COVID-19 does have an airborne and contact mechanism, with proper masking and distancing, up to 95% of cases can be prevented, similar to its cousin in the flu family. We now know that the window of contagion is most likely to occur from others displaying florid, active symptoms and clinical signs, also like the flu. We know that there are those who are exposed to the coronavirus who develop antibodies without ever contracting it. And we know that 40% of people who have actively been diagnosed with COVID, never develop any symptoms at all — and it is this population that have provided the key to vaccine development.
We had the genome of COVID-19 mapped and serious analysis underway by the middle of May. We have nine international pharmaceutical companies working on a vaccine. To date, every one has been a success in trials — from a standard attenuated version you would find in a polio shot, to recombinant measures such as are found in AIDS treatment and prevention, to experimental forms that attack the very genes of the virus.
This global moonshot is paying handsomely too. As we speak, three companies are in the final phase of human trials, and another has just begun. Nations around the globe are signing distribution deals as fast as the lawyers can draft the contracts. Those trials have been so successful that Pfizer took the unprecedented step of manufacturing hundreds of millions of doses before FDA approval has even been granted. Why? Because the first stages of human testing — in all vaccine trials — have shown a 100% infiltration of antibodies in human subjects. While not all testing may be accurate, the results they are churning out is a testament to the skill of our research scientists.
They just work.
Not only do they just work, the chances are very good that they are going to be in your hands anywhere from October to year’s end. Even laggards, such as the Oxford Group, anticipates a final product early spring 2021.
While it was prudent and sensible to shut things down in March, such an approach is now contraindicated given the available science and known paths of transmission. As importantly, it just ignores so many realities — economic realities, state budget realities, the lack of political will to do so, the shortcomings inherent in a federalist system that creates 51 separate responses with 51 competing priorities, informed consent of the players, the testing and symptom-monitoring protocols in place, the willingness to play without spectators, a penalty-free option to skip the season, the availability of a COVID 19 redshirt, quarantine mechanisms, world-class health care at their fingertips, and that while risks cannot be eliminated, they can be lessened as we struggle to regain some semblance of normalcy as the the calendar brings us closer to a vaccine.
It also ignores that COVID-19 may be an emergent coronavirus that will remain with humanity forever.
Armed with the science and a more thorough understanding of our new-normal, with vaccines on the way, with a younger population that blithely ignores all safety precautions, and with new protocols and regulations in place, it is perhaps maybe time that we acknowledge that this is as good as it will get.
Obviously, you don’t want your star quarterback licking the door handles in a nursing home. But at the same time, he realizes that he is likely to be just as — if not more, endangered sitting in that Chem Lab than he is in a locker room.
The student-athletes recognize the new normal, and are willing to live with it. The science recognizes the new normal, and has already provided the blueprint for that new normal.
Why can’t the administrators and their enablers in the sports media?