Study finds little spread of coronavirus from fans attending sporting events

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – A new study conducted by medRxiv looked at the data behind the potential spread of coronavirus at sporting events in the United States, specifically NFL & NCAA games.

As you know, multiple stadiums across the United States welcomed fans to attend NFL & NCAA games in 2020 and into early 2021.

More and more states are beginning to open up, but some states like California, are still banning fans from attending games because their health officials say it’s dangerous.

A group of doctors and scientists conducted a study titled, “The Effect of NFL and NCAA Football Games on the Spread of COVID-19 in the United States: An Empirical Analysis.”

The objective of the study was, “to assess whether NFL and NCAA football games with limited in-person attendance have contributed to a substantial increase in COVID-19 cases in the counties they were held.”

The study concluded that, “NFL and NCAA Football games hosted with limited in-person attendance do not cause a significant increase in local COVID-19 cases.”

This study has not been peer-reviewed. It reports new medical research that has yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice.

The NFL and NCAA football seasons are over, but high school football in San Diego and the MLB seasons are just about to start. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has announced that local counties can decided whether or not to allow fans at their stadiums, but in California, local counties are not able to bypass the state reopening process, so we need approval from Governor Gavin Newsom.

Here in San Diego, Padres Opening Day is quickly approaching, but Supervisor Nathan Fletcher has refused to signal support for coming up with a plan to get fans in the stands at Petco Park.

As high school sports resume, the same question can be asked, Will San Diego County health allow people to watch these games in the stands?

Jag Chhatwal, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, joined KUSI to discuss the new study’s findings.


In January, KUSI News asked Fletcher if anyone from San Diego County was working with the state on a plan to safely allow fans to attend games at Petco Park. Fletcher responded saying, “at the county we are working daily to lower the case count.” Explaining that lowering the case count can get fans in the stands.

Two weeks later, KUSI News again asked Supervisor Fletcher if San Diego County would advise the state of California to allow fans in the stands for Padres Opening Day.

Fletcher shut down the question, answering, “depends where we are Opening Day.”

Since then, Supervisor Jim Desmond sent a letter to Governor Newsom requesting he allow fans to attend Padres games at Petco Park, but has yet to get a response. Desmond is not part of the San Diego County Coronavirus Team, and none of the officials leading our response have signaled support for Desmond’s request.

Desmond cited this medRxiv study, and pointed to the many other places that have safely allowed fans in the stands.

The complete medRxiv study can be read here.

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