Let’s start with some good news: College football and the NFL are back in action! Now, the bad news: COVID-19 is still very much wreaking havoc out there. Because neither the NFL nor college football teams elected to go into a “bubble” as the NBA had (and successfully saw zero positive coronavirus tests in 172 games), these teams are left susceptible to infection and spread. So far, there have been numerous outbreaks in both the college football world as well as the NFL, to the shock of … well, no one.
Not many players have been seriously ill after testing positive for the coronavirus, and some tests were even returned as false positives after several straight negative tests. But the crux of the issue is this: Players, coaches and staff get tested daily for the virus, yet most of the nation doesn’t seem to get the same attention and care.
If you’re lucky enough to live in the beautiful Bay Area, there happen to be many testing facilities that will provide results in an efficient and timely manner. But that’s just not the case for people in many regions of the United States. In fact, there are only 2,706 daily COVID-19 tests applied per million people in the United States. This number is just too low. There are hundreds of tests daily for athletes to play a sport for entertainment and not enough for the average citizen — that’s a disparity that we can’t afford right now.
To be clear, this is not a piece saying we shouldn’t test athletes daily. If anything, I think they’ve got it right. However, tests should be available to everyone with the same urgency that thousands of athletes and coaches are provided with.
For instance, Alabama football coaching legend Nick Saban was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Oct. 14, and it sent shockwaves through the football world, as No. 2 Alabama was to play No. 3 Georgia on Oct. 17. For most Americans, three days is an impossibly short timeline to recover from COVID-19 or to prove the test was a false positive, as results can take three to five days to process (that is if everything is going well). But it’s a different case when it comes to football — Saban tested negative Thursday, Friday and early Saturday morning, just in time for game day in Tuscaloosa.
Similarly, the Tennessee Titans had a somewhat infamous run-in with the coronavirus just about a week ago. A few staff members and players tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the organization suspending practice and asking members of the club to isolate themselves until everyone was cleared to return. But that didn’t happen.
Several members of the Titans got together during their isolation period and held unofficial practices, which is a direct violation of the NFL’s COVID-19 policies. Given how minimal the policies are, it’s honestly impressive that they could be broken. Shockingly, the Titans faced an outbreak and were forced to move their game to Oct. 13, where they managed to use their own failure as “bulletin board material” when they smacked the Buffalo Bills.
The New England Patriots had several positive COVID-19 tests last week as well. In contrast to the Titans, the Patriots followed protocol, shutting down all facilities and canceling all practices. Just days later, most players were tested, cleared and good to go.
And you know what? I’m happy for Saban and for all of the players and coaches who get access to rapid COVID-19 testing, which is sorely needed for contact sports such as football. Given the inevitability of one person contracting COVID-19 out of hundreds, the NCAA and the NFL have performed relatively well in terms of being flexible and, by all appearances, have played it safe, with a few exceptions. Contact tracing and testing do seem to work — who could have predicted that?
So let’s respect workers like we respect athletes. Bay Area residents are lucky enough to have local resources for effective COVID-19 testing, and we should use them. If you’re out in the world at all, do yourself and everyone around you a favor, and treat yourself like an all-world athlete.
Get up, touch your toes, crack your back and walk yourself down to your local COVID-19 testing facility. Let me take this sports analogy one step further: We’re all running a marathon, not a sprint. The only way to get through this is to be responsible and to test and trace to the best of our abilities. Football is back, and athletes are getting the attention and care they deserve, but it’s time to give the rest of the United States that attention as well.