Professional and college sports leagues are unlikely to resume their COVID-19-interrupted seasons anytime soon, according to Mitchel Rosen, a preparedness expert at the Rutgers School of Public Health.

While unfortunate for Americans who look to sports to maintain a sense of normalcy, the interruption of play protects the health of spectators and players.

Rosen’s research interests include preparedness, personal protective equipment, occupational health and safety, and public health capacity development. He also is sports fan, who offered the following thoughts on steps taken by the NHL, NBA, NCAA and other major sports organizations to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Rosen is an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health and the director of the Center for Public Health Workforce Development. 

Were you surprised many major professional sports leagues and the NCAA ended or postponed their seasons so abruptly?

No. We have been seeing an exponential growth of cases. New disease models have also shown us just how quickly COVID-19 can spread if proper mitigation efforts are not put in place. These measures are aligned with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to avoid gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

When do you expect sports to return?

I don't think there is any way we could guess at what point sports will make a comeback since there are many factors involved, including how quickly we can ‘flatten the curve’ and make informed scientific decisions of when players can get back together. The general population at large, sports leagues, and fans must look at the importance of the work that their state and local public health authorities do every day to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What needs to happen for sports to return?

 State and federal public health authorities will determine when it is safe for sports to resume. The first step is controlling the COVID-19 pandemic by following state and federal public health guidance to ensure that we do not initiate a spike in new cases. 

Why aren’t teams playing without fans?

Even with no fans present, there is potential for COVID-19 transmission. Players, coaches, trainers, other team staff, and broadcast production members would still be in close contact with each other and not able to follow the principals of social distancing. If infected, these individuals can then spread the disease to those that they are in routine contact with, such as their family members and others within their social circle.

What does this mean for college sports, particularly the Rutgers Scarlet Knights whose men’s basketball team was slated to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 29 years?

I feel sad for the all student-athletes who worked so hard at both their academics and sports. I am especially sad that the seniors will miss out on the end of their college athletic careers. This was such an exciting season for Rutgers Men’s Basketball. Not having the chance to go the NCAA is a huge disappointment for them, as well as Rutgers fans. 



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