A resurgence of COVID-19 could burst the “bubble” for pro sports.
Most of the counties these leagues have chosen for isolated play are turning into COVID hot spots.
According to this interactive map from the New York Times, every county planning to host an upcoming professional sporting event has seen either a two-week increase or a plateau in its average number of COVID infections.
Cases are rising in western and the southeastern states, where governors have loosened stay-at-home restrictions in the past few weeks.
Health officials are also worried about a spike in cases after nationwide demonstrations erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed concern about the coronavirus in the coming months. The virus, he said, “could go on for a couple of cycles, coming back and forth.” According to Fauci, normalcy will return “within a year or so.”
But major American sports leagues are getting back to their version of “normal” now. The PGA and NASCAR have restarted and other team sports leagues are expecting to play by the end of July.
Most recently, the WNBA officially announced its plan to play a 22-game season at the IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla.
Brandenton lies in Manatee County, just south of Tampa. Cases in the county have been on the rise for two weeks.
Nearby Osceola County plans to host the MLS and NBA at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. There, cases have doubled since the beginning of the month. The infection trend comes at a time where Disney World plans to begin a phased reopening in July.
Further north, in South Carolina, the PGA tour will continue their tournament schedule this week in Hilton Head. But Buford County’s caseload has nearly tripled in the past few weeks.
Another southern state seeing a spike in cases is Alabama. The state will host NASCAR in Talladega this weekend. Even though cases in Talladega County have remained the same, NASCAR will allow 5,000 fans in the stands this Sunday. 5,000 people is nearly a third of the entire population of Talladega, Ala.
Out West, Top Ranked Boxing will host an event tonight in Las Vegas, where cases have risen in the past few weeks. In April Vegas mayor, Carolyn Goodman, infamously called for all of the city’s casinos, sports stadiums, and restaurants to reopen. Two weeks after Goodman got her wish of reopened casinos, COVID infections rose across the state.
The NWSL and PLL (Professional Lacrosse League) plan to play their tournaments in Salt Lake City, Utah. Cases in Salt Lake County have remained fairly stagnant, but have increased over the past two weeks.
Every county professional leagues are supposed to play in has registered on the NYT “Hot Spot” map. No county mentioned in this story has a decreasing average caseload.
As leagues decide the fate of pro sports in a pandemic, they will have to reconcile playing in counties with cases on the rise or risk infecting players and personnel sequestered in an imaginary bubble.