Houston Astros fans will reach home run outfield player Willie Calhoun, 5, hit by Texas Rangers in the first inning of the baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros, Texas on May 13, 2021 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Leslie Plaza | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images
Mask mandates are slowly waning after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised their guidelines on Thursday. That could be good news for sports leagues, so CNBC spoke to some experts about what this means for fans who are nervous about getting back to face-to-face games.
The CDC said that in most cases, fully vaccinated people can wear protective clothing and no longer have to stay three feet apart. Unvaccinated people still have to follow stricter guidelines as they continue to be at risk.
“When you are fully vaccinated you can start doing the things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters. “We have all longed for that moment when we can return to a sense of normalcy.”
The CDC was cheered and criticized for its decision.
Professional sports leagues, including Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, have been operating under capacity constraints for cities and states due to the pandemic. The leagues have advised clubs to adopt their mask mandate advice from local officials. Game masks are still required and this rule could remain.
The new rules are good for business as professional sports leagues draw back more fans and help leagues recover from billions in losses. This should further support the already rich National Football League as clubs like the Dallas Cowboys want 100% capacity for the 2021 season.
“No free card to leave prison”
The CDC continues to advise people to follow business guidelines when it comes to masking mandates. Indoor arenas are riskier than outdoor arenas if you are not vaccinated. As such, the NBA and National Hockey League may need to maintain their guidelines as they prepare for their postseason.
Gil Fried, a professor of sports management at the University of New Haven, advised pro teams to stay cautious.
“When you’re in an arena, you don’t know what other people have and whether or not they have been vaccinated,” Fried said. “I still wouldn’t go to a venue without wearing a mask.”
When asked when leagues should drop mask mandates, Fried said, “When the numbers around the world go down.” He then pointed out the nationwide lockdown in Turkey as the number of cases rose to over 60,000 a day.
“Turkey has done very well and is considered a model for success. And now they have declined in a short time,” said Fried.
Also consider the recent Covid-19 outbreak within the New York Yankees, which occurred even though team members were vaccinated. On Thursday, a positive test put Yankees player Gleyber Torres out of action for at least 10 days under MLB rules. And the league reported 10 new positive cases on Friday.
Fried said the leagues shouldn’t move too fast if the mask requirements are dropped.
“I think it’s great news for things like personal training, but it’s not a free prison exit card that will make everything better,” Fried said on the CDC News.
“If you move too fast it can be scary to people,” he added. “They’ve been closed for months. Yes, they strive to get out and do things, but there are still a lot of fearful people. That’s part of the psychological side.”
Fans stand for the national anthem for the game between the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings on May 7, 2021 at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.
Rocky Widner | National Basketball Association | Getty Images
Arenas are safer than you think
At this point, leagues are at greater risk of changing protocols as liability concerns remain. And city and state officials are still holding the keys for fans who are returning in full.
On May 19, New York will allow Yankees and Mets games to have 33% capacity for unvaccinated sections and offer free vaccinations during games. The Knicks are used to 25%. In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia 76ers plan to allow 50% capacity when the team makes the playoffs.
At the league level, MLB plans to maintain Covid-19 advice for teams. The NBA didn’t respond to CNBC’s request to comment on their plans after the CDC update.
Stephen Kissler, who studies the spread of infectious diseases at Harvard University, said indoor arenas are now safer than they were before Covid. During the pandemic, the teams invested in disinfection equipment, germicidal technologies and improved ventilation systems.
“All of these things together don’t reduce the risk to zero, but they do reduce it to something that is much closer to the risks we take every day,” said Kissler.
NFL clubs have allowed more people to congregate at games after the league kicked off the 2020 season with limited capacity. More than 20,000 people attended the Super Bowl in February. But that was outside. When asked about the Covid 19 risk in fully vaccinated people at an indoor sports event – and with masks – Kissler said the chances were slim.
“One of the things I would have liked – and maybe arenas can think about – with the CDC guidelines is that these mask recommendations should be tied to the spread in the area,” said Kissler. “If you are vaccinated and are wearing a mask and someone next to you is not, and the prevalence in the community is low, then I think the likelihood that the person next to you is contagious and spreading it to you while you have a mask.” and vaccinated are extremely low. “
Kissler said allowing 75% capacity at indoor sporting events would be acceptable as cases decline.
“That side of caution makes a lot of sense – doing these things slowly,” said Kissler. “But we’re entering a time when Covid infection isn’t that scary anymore, which is great,” he added. “We have been pushing for that all along.”
“I don’t think Covid is likely to go away. But if enough people are vaccinated and there is a certain level of immunity to Covid – where previously a Covid infection would have brought things to a standstill, we can raise the threshold a little.” he said.