California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined six criteria that will need to be met to lift the statewide shelter-in-place order aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus.
During a press briefing Tuesday, Newsom indicated there is no specific timeline for modifying restrictions, but said Californians should not expect a return to “normal” life until there is herd immunity and a COVID-19 vaccine exists.
The state is exploring ways businesses and schools can reopen in a safe and responsible manner, but the governor indicated mass gatherings such as sporting events and concerts will not be permitted to take place in the near future.
“The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” Newsom said. “So large-scale events that bring in hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of strangers altogether across every conceivable difference, health and otherwise, is not in the cards based upon our current guidelines and current expectations.”
The governor added the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is evolving rapidly and outlined what would be required for California to change its stance on mass gatherings.
“Things can change radically and we could of course have therapeutics at scale, the kind of community testing at scale, serology tests at scale and a capacity to get vaccines earlier than we anticipated that can change that dynamic, so I want to caution my own words in that context,” Newsom said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has indicated that it will take between 12 and 18 months to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
Newsom’s statement on mass gatherings in California came in response to a question of how he anticipates potentially easing some of the stay-at-home restrictions will affect upcoming holidays such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July.
“When you suggest June, July, August, (mass gatherings) are unlikely,” Newsom said.
A restriction on mass gatherings for the remainder of 2020 would have massive ramifications for professional and amateur sports alike.
As Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League weigh the possibility of playing in stadiums without fans or canceling games altogether, the National Football League –which has three California-based teams– would need to begin considering its own alternatives.
During a Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting last week, the county’s Executive Officer, Jeff Smith, said he did not anticipate the San Francisco 49ers or San Jose Sharks would be permitted to host games until at least late November.
“Sorry to say,” Smith told Supervisor Mike Wasserman, “I don’t expect that we’ll have any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’ll be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”
“This is not going to be something that is easy to do,” Smith added.
MLB has reportedly discussed a plan that would require all 30 teams to play a partial season in Arizona spring training stadiums, but the proposal has been met with some public resistance from players who are uneasy about quarantining away from their families for a four-to-five month period.
“From our perspective we don’t have a plan, we have lots of ideas,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in an interview on the Fox Business channel Tuesday. “What ideas come to fruition will depend on what the restrictions are, what the public health situation is. But we are intent on the idea of trying to make baseball part of the recovery – the economic recovery – and sort of a milestone on the return of normalcy.”
The NCAA, the organization that regulates collegiate athletics, and the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for high school sports in the state, have already canceled sporting events and team activities for the remainder of the academic year.
If mass gatherings remain restricted into the fall and winter, it’s unlikely academic institutions in California would allow student-athletes to compete given the possible physical distancing guidelines Newsom said the state is discussing for schools.
“We could conceivably stagger the individual students to come in as cohorts, some in the morning, some in the afternoon,” Newsom said. “We have to work of course with our unions and management and others to figure something like that out, but those are the conversations that we are already having.”
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told this news organization on March 31 that a decision regarding starting the college football season on time is “not really in our control.”
“A lot has to do with what the universities decide for their students on campus and what the public health officials believe,’’ Scott said.
Leagues such as MLB, the NBA and the NHL have given no indication on when they plan to re-start or start their seasons, but NFL teams are tentatively preparing for training camps to open in mid-July.
Barring a sudden change that lifts limitations on mass gatherings, that will not happen as planned.