An interesting article ran a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal about how a single soccer match on February 19 in Bergamo, Italy, became a “contagion disaster,” helping the coronavirus spread across Northern Italy and into Spain. Here’s a snip from the article:
Atalanta fans were walking into a petri dish. In a single mass gathering, they were about to prove how sporting events could end up at the center of a global pandemic.
By then, the coronavirus was spreading through untold numbers of asymptomatic carriers. Forty thousand bouncing, hugging soccer fans were the perfect vector: Experts are now convinced that Atalanta’s 4-1 win over Valencia was a catalyst in turning Lombardy into one of the worst-hit regions on the planet. The coronavirus was so present inside the stadium that night that once Valencia returned to Spain, 35% of its traveling squad eventually tested positive.
Reading this article brings to mind two things:
First, we are incredibly lucky that the NCAA canceled March Madness and that the NBA, MLB, NHL and other professional leagues cancelled their seasons. Looking back, I think we really need to thank Duke and Kansas for pulling their student athletes out of the games, which encouraged the NCAA to cancel the championship. Just thinking how many fans could have been contaminated and brought the virus back to their home towns and campuses makes me cringe.
Canceling Events Saved Lives
Canceling South by Southwest and many other conferences and trade shows was also a good idea, although the loss of SXSW was quite painful for the City of Austin. But look at the consequences that Mardi Gras had on New Orleans and Spring Break had on Florida. Both states are now hotbeds of infection. Louisiana has about twice as many COVID-19 cases as Texas. Even more telling, Louisiana has 11 times as many cases per capita as Texas. Plus, we are spared the illnesses and deaths from coronavirus infections that SXSW attendees could have carried all over the country, much like spring breakers did.
A single Biogen conference with 175 attendees in Boston eventually resulted in at least 109 directly traceable cases spread across the East Coast. Think what damage 150,000 attendees could have wrought.
The Second thing of note is that the WSJ article implies that everyone in Bergamo, Italy, knows someone who has died from coronavirus. That’s not yet the case here, although it may soon be in the New York metropolitan area. I know someone who works with someone who has tested positive, but that is as far as my personal connection to COVID-19 goes. Having been to funerals for HIV/AIDs victims, I consider myself lucky that I don’t know a COVID-19 victim (knock on wood).
When we look back with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, we will see mistakes that were made and we will see decisions that saved thousands of lives. I think cancelling sporting events ranks right up there with early travel bans.
In this case, playing it safe meant not playing at all, and that was a win for all of us.