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UW modeler: US needs national COVID response to resume college sports

A packed Husky Stadium in 2019. The Pac-12 has canceled all fall sports in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. (MyNorthwest photo)

As colleges and professional sports continue to grapple with how to safely resume in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Ali Mokdad with UW’s Institute for Disease Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) sees a path forward.

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“This is a patient virus, one that waits for us to make mistakes,” Dr. Mokdad said Tuesday. “We need to act decisively now, unite around science, and do the right things for the sake of our present and future.”

The IHME predicts the United States could see nearly 300,000 total COVID-19 deaths by Dec. 1 if its response continues on its current path. And while a large-scale testing and contact tracing infrastructure was a viable solution early on in the outbreak, it may now require a different approach.

“Unfortunately, test, trace, and isolate is likely no longer feasible in many states due to the large number of new cases detected every day and the delay in receiving test results,” Mokdad said. “We need a national coordinated response more than ever to slow the premature opening of businesses, bars, and schools (in hot spots) so we can finally contain the pandemic across the nation.”

“Only then should we start talking about the need for a college football season,” he added.

On Tuesday, the Pac-12 joined other college conferences and leagues in canceling fall sports for the 2020 season, including football. According to the conference, no sports will be played for the rest of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference also announced that when conditions improve, it would consider a return to competition for impacted sports after Jan. 1, 2021.

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At the pro sports level, the NFL intends to begin its season as scheduled in September. Major League Baseball has encountered early issues with players breaking protocol and testing positive for COVID-19. Bubbles enacted by the NHL and NBA have largely been successful in limiting the spread of the virus.

Mokdad also emphasized the need to adhere to mask mandates, something that the United States has failed to do at an acceptable rate.

“Mask use is increasing thanks to messaging, mandates, and penalties, but as a country we are still far below the 95% universal mask wearing that will have the greatest impact.”

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