Another bubble is about to burst in the sports world and no, this one’s not in Florida.
Just as the NWSL plans to start their summer tournament, COVID-19 cases are rising in Utah.
On Saturday, the state recorded its highest daily infection total with 588 positive cases. The majority of the state’s caseload is concentrated in the Salt Lake City region where the NWSL plans to host a month-long tournament, which starts this Saturday.
The NWSL will be the first American league to play in the pandemic. But the league’s decision to host the tournament has come with a few consequences. First, several U.S. national team players like Megan Rapinoe, Christian Press, Carli Lloyd, and Tobin Heath are opting out of the tournament due to health concerns. The Orlando Pride have also opted out after a number of players and staff were infected in Orlando.
It only took six players and four staff members testing positive for the Pride to completely abandon their plan to play in Utah.
Reports show that a few players likely contracted the virus after they took a trip to an Orlando bar, which was opened under Florida’s reopening guidelines. That trip led to a team outbreak.
The central Florida region is a growing COVID hot spot in the U.S. and the restart site for many pro sports leagues, specifically the MLS, NBA, and WNBA,
Salt Lake is turning into a hot spot, too. Utah Governor, Gary Herbert, reopened the state on May 1. Since then, statewide cases have gone up. The state has reopened restaurants, gyms, salons, and houses of worship, but the famous Salt Lake temple remains closed.
In the last two weeks, new cases in Salt Lake County have nearly doubled. It’s a trend that has some Utah epidemiologists worried.
“We’re on the edge of an outbreak and it’s concerning,” Professor Lindsay T. Keegan, an infectious disease expert at the University of Utah, told ABC4 Salt Lake. “I don’t even think we’ve started to see a peak yet.”
Other Utah health officials warn of a “complete shutdown” if the state does not reduce its infection numbers to 200 people per day by July 1.
The NWSL may be the first American league to start, but it could also be the first to be in serious jeopardy. Florida COVID rates have already closed down the Phillies, Lightning, and Blue Jays training facilities. There is no reason to believe that the same thing couldn’t happen in Salt Lake.
The pressure is on for the NWSL to create a safe template for other team sports leagues to follow. But the league could also provide a cautionary tale to any American sports league looking to reopen.