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Football has a chance to get back to normal in 2021, with your help

After an endless cascade of bad news in 2020, 2021 has provided a lot of good news. Let’s make it better.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

DISCLAIMER: I am not an epidemiologist nor a public health official. I am merely a nerd with an internet connection. The purpose of this article is not to provide non-expert predictions, but to try and paint a picture from what experts are saying and what trends are showing to inform the readers of APC as to what next football season may look like.

2020 sucked. It’s a hot take, I know. A pandemic that was a terrible combination of dangerous enough to be scary, but also transmissible enough to be widespread left us with what amounted to a lost year for many people. I don’t need to write about what happened because you endured it.

The constant battering from some of the smallest members of our earthly ecosystem has fundamentally changed our brains in some ways, at least in the short-term. Being optimistic in any way seems foolhardy. After all, the pandemic was only supposed to last a few weeks or months, yet here we are, essentially a full year later, still dealing with this pest. Despite this, I’m pretty optimistic for what our country is going to look like in the near future, and I want to try and provide you with the context as to why.

The Vaccines are Here and They’re Amazing

I can’t overstate how disappointed I am in the public health messaging around the vaccines. In effectively one year, we have developed multiple safe and effective vaccines against a novel virus. This is truly one of the most spectacular scientific achievements ever, and yet the public health messaging surrounding it has been far too cautious about what it means for each individual, and the broader society.

It’s important to understand the ultimate end goal of the vaccines, and it’s not actually to prevent infection; it’s to prevent severe disease. If we could snap our fingers today and turn every COVID-19 infection into a common cold, the pandemic would be over. People would get mild illness, sure, but we deal with the common cold every year and have virtually no issue. With that, I present you with the following table:

The major vaccine candidates, including Moderna and Pfizer, which have already received Emergency Use Authorization from the USA FDA, and Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to receive EUA later this week, all have near-100% efficacy in preventing hospitalizations and deaths, which are the really bad outcomes that cause something to escalate from a virus going around into a crisis. Despite some issues with building a trial in the US, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has already been in use in other countries, and has been effective in helping curb their virus numbers as well. Ruud Dobber, executive vice president at AstraZeneca, said he expects an EUA to be given to their vaccine candidate in early April, and will be able to supply fifty million doses by the end of that month.

The vaccines are here. They work to a level of efficacy that epidemiologists could have only dreamed of six or nine months ago. They also appear to stop not only infection, but also spread.

Again, the vaccines are here and they’re amazing. I plead with you as a fellow citizen, please get vaccinated as soon as you are able to do so in your local area. Your respective state or locality likely has a website to provide you with information about who is eligible at this time.

The Supply is Coming

Right now we’re in a situation in which the demand for vaccines outstrips supply, but that isn’t going to last forever. On an interview with the Today Show on February 11th, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that “open season” for vaccinations should occur at some point in April. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to get vaccinated in your particular area in April, but that the scheduling for vaccination appointments will likely be opened to the general public in many areas at some point in April, or perhaps early May.

Despite some initial hiccups in supply and distribution, there are going to be a lot of doses pushed out to the public over the course of the next two to three months. In fact, by the end of March, the US will already have a significant number of vaccines.

Production ramp-ups during February, March, and April will mean that the supply of vaccines available may outstrip demand. According to a recent Gallup poll, about 71% of Americans, an all-time high, want to get a COVID-19 vaccine. I was always optimistic about this, even when numbers were lower in the fall (largely due to the overt politicization of the issue), because a vaccine means normality, and people like normality. I would expect that that number will continue to rise as people know friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who got vaccinated, had no severe side-effects, and were able to begin returning to a normal life largely carefree about the virus.

At some point in the late spring or early summer, at projected trends, everyone who will want a vaccine will have received at least one dose. At some point during the summer, probably in the early-ish summer, the US will have entered some level of true “herd immunity.”

The US is expected to reach “herd immunity” during the summer
Covid-19 Projections

Things are Already Improving Quickly

The US as a whole had its lowest 7-day average of new confirmed cases since October 23rd. Its adjusted positivity rate is its lowest since October 17th. And the downslope on these metrics is sharp.

Covid-19 Projections

If we look at just Wisconsin, which had a really bad surge in the fall, things are even better. the 7-day new confirmed cases average is at its lowest since September 3rd, and the adjusted positivity rate is at its lowest since June 19th.

As we see vaccinations accelerate rapidly in the next two to three months, and factor in the seasonality effects (people can be outdoors more when it’s not frigid outside and respiratory viruses spread easier in colder conditions), COVID-19 cases could be crushed by the summer and the negative impacts on the most susceptible populations largely mitigated. There are always the fears that a vaccine-resistant mutant can escape, but the vaccines appear to still largely be effective against the mutants so far, particularly in regard to preventing the most negative consequences. The best way to prevent the mutant is to stop the spread, which means getting vaccinated.

Impacts on Football

The 2021 football season will likely be much more normal than the 2020 one was. I would still expect teams to largely, if not exclusively, handle their OTAs virtually as players begin to get vaccinated in the spring and early summer. Testing regimens will likely continue, at least to start the season, as the league will likely take a “better safe than sorry” approach. So long as players are vaccinated though, the season should be pretty normal. The biggest hurdle the league will have to clear is vaccine hesitancy or anti-vax sentiment, which is an issue for society as a whole.

As far as the fan experience goes, it probably will depend more on how quickly the local governments will allow normal to ensue, which will not be uniform across the country. The one thing I want to emphasize for everyone is that effectively no one is having a good time with these restrictions. If case loads plummet and vaccination take-up is high, it’s possible that we could see a full Lambeau Field for Green Bay Packers games as early as the pre-season, and it seems likely we’ll see one at some point in the fall. (Whether that is with masks or without masks, I’m not sure.)

If vaccination take-up is high and cases become rare, public health officials should begin recommending to lift or ease restrictions, but remember, the CDC says you should only eat well-done cheeseburgers, so sometimes they are a bit over-cautious. Still, the high levels of caution shown throughout the pandemic by public health officials have proven to be appropriate, while public messaging disasters such as those from the highest levels of the U.S. government proved to be a critical error in our overall response.

The best part about this is that we can make things normal again. Soon we will not be at the mercy of the supply chain. Our demand for vaccines will dictate how quickly normality returns. If you want to be grilling brats outside the stadium, beer in hand, trolling traveling Steelers fans about Super Bowl XLV, make an appointment to get vaccinated as soon as you are able. If you want to be a part of the roar as the team bursts out of the tunnel, make an appointment to get vaccinated as soon as you are able. If you want a rowdy Lambeau Field in December, make an appointment to get vaccinated as soon as you are able. Please talk to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, followers, and anyone who will listen about getting vaccinated. When you do get vaccinated, tell people, post about it, etc. Normalize getting vaccinated to everyone you know.

The light is not only visible at the end of the tunnel, it is only a few steps away. Don’t trip before the finish line.

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