Monday December 4, 2023

Will It Really Be Safe?

  • Experts continue to caution that the virus has not disappeared — and while March Madness protocols are certainly strict, they won’t completely eliminate risk.
  • Even simply hosting March Madness could send a problematic message, one expert told FOS.
Photo: UNC Athletics/Design: Alex Brooks
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COVID-19 cases have declined both in the region and across the country over the last month, and vaccine distribution is increasing. Dr. Anthony Fauci has even predicted that fans could fill football stadiums this fall.

But experts continue to caution that the virus has not disappeared — and while March Madness protocols are certainly strict, they won’t completely eliminate risk.

“This is a different level of madness that we’re going to experience during the tournament,” Illinois computer science professor and risk assessment expert Sheldon Jacobson told FOS.

Protocol Concerns

The strict testing and quarantine will help minimize risk, Muhlenberg public health professor Kathleen Bachynski told FOS. However, teams departing from various geographic locations and descending on one single city could spread the virus.

Bachynski does not think that some personnel working outside the tightest protocols pose a major concern. But in general, Jacobson added, “There’s always going to be holes.” 

Plus, even with a limited number of fans flocking to games, there is heightened potential for an outbreak — especially since games are indoors. “I don’t love it,” Bachynski said. 

But fans attending as household “pods” could lower the chance of the virus entering the building, since it means people arriving from more homogeneous locations, Jacobson added.

Hoops has a more tempered perspective: “This is not, with all due respect to other places, a motorcycle rally with no masks.”

Public Health Concerns

Bachynski says simply hosting March Madness could send a problematic message. People could misinterpret the tournament as a green light for complementary activities, like gathering in people’s houses to watch games.

“I’d love to see us just hold on a couple more weeks, a couple more months,” Bachynski said. “We’re going to be in a much better position.”

Either way, the tournament is happening. No one knows how much the Big Dance will spread the virus, how many teams will have to drop out, or how many games will actually be played. 

When asked for a prediction, Jacobson said, “My crystal ball is very murky.”

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