The return of maskless, full-capacity crowds at Southeastern conference football games this fall posed the “ultimate stress test of COVID-19,” note three professors who studied the impact after health officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of catastrophe.
The professors, including Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University, found no evidence that the crowds, as large as 100,000, led to outbreaks in host communities.
The average weekly local infection rate for the five weeks before the SEC football began was 0.44%. During the season it decreased to 0.18%.
After the first games, Sept. 7, horrified MSNBC host Joy Reid asked Fauci: “As soon as I saw [photos of packed stadiums], I thought COVID-19 is about to have a feast. What did you think?”
Fauci replied: “I thought the same thing. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
Makary was joined by Elizabeth Plummer, a business professor at Texas Christian University, and Ge Bai, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Business School and Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The scholars point out in an opinion piece for The Hill that SEC football games are primarily located in states with relatively few state-imposed COVID-19 restrictions: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Nine of the states have vaccination rates consistently lower than the national average. The professors write that “while vaccination is our primary weapon to combat COVID-19 infection, natural immunity from prior infection also contributes to population immunity.”
The average SEC stadium holds more than 80,000 fans, and four of the stadiums have capacities exceeding 100,000.
Louisiana State University was the only SEC school to impose stadium entry COVID-19 protocols, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. But LSU lifted the restriction on Oct. 16 when it hosted a game that drew 96,000 fans.
The professors point out that SEC games feature other events that present opportunities for community transmission, including tailgating, parties and travel.
“But it didn’t happen. Population immunity levels in the context of mostly open-air events are demonstrating that viral shedding in this setting is minimal and is not resulting in outbreaks,” they write.
They factored in the weekly new COVID-19 case rate in the home counties of the 14 SEC universities in their examination of the impact of 98 home games over the three-month season.
Their findings were consistent with a recent Journal of the American Medical Association study that found no instances of in-game COVID-19 transmission among college football players during the 2020 football season.
“The hypothesis that SEC stadium gatherings would result in increased COVID-19 transmission is not supported by the data,” the three professors write in The Hill.
“Vaccination and natural immunity downgrade COVID-19 to an endemic mild virus.”
They conclude: “Let’s respect the evidence, enjoy outside gatherings and have the freedom to live our lives!”
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