An expert in security and emergency preparedness from the University at Albany says the desire to return to sports amidst the COVID-19 pandemic must balance short-term ambitions with long-term consequences.
Jayson Kratoville, interim director of the National Center for Security and Preparedness at UAlbany, participated in an online panel Thursday discussion titled “Not Business As Usual: Sports and Businesses Re-Opening During COVID,” and reiterated on multiple occasions that a cautious approach was more likely to lead to a more desired result in the long run.
“We’re trying to get to a point where we’re all allowed to play sports and we’re all able to play sports,” Kratoville said. “If you do these things — if you wear a mask, if you practice good hygiene, if you maintain distancing, if you make smart decisions — it’s more likely that you’re going to get to play for longer. Incentivizing it in that way and getting that message out there is absolutely critical.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this week that some “low-risk” youth sports, including baseball, softball, field hockey, cross country, gymnastics and crew, can begin July 6 for regions in Phase 3 of reopening with a limit of two spectators per participant.
Kratoville stressed that as sports at all levels seek to restart following months of shutdowns, all parties involved need to let science and facts be the most important decision-making drivers.
That’s especially true at the youth level, when it comes to balancing parents’ desire to let their children participate with ensuring the organizations in charge will take the proper precautions.
Allowing the parents the power to ensure those precautions are taken will go a long way toward ensuring both short- and long-term safety.
“That empowerment piece there is huge, and is going to be the ultimate driver in these companies’ decisions,” Kratoville said.
Kratoville likened the public sentiment during the coronavirus shutdown to a “siege” mentality, which can lead to an environment where more risk is tolerated as cabin fever mounts.
That’s when things get dangerous, he said, especially if a potential second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic washes over the population.
“There becomes this sort of sentiment that maybe the threat wasn’t that bad to begin with — especially in contrast to what we’re feeling now,” Kratoville said. “I think what we need to do is empower people to realize that what our experts tell us is that if you look historically at pandemics, the second waves hit pretty strongly for those reasons. So, you end up with a situation where people just kind of get, for lack of a better term, tired of — and I mean that in the most empathetic way; people need jobs, need their businesses to flourish — they lose some of the resilience to holding out and start to go out.”
That desire could be counterproductive in the long run for an ultimate goal of returning sports to a level where they were before everything shut down in March.
Staying patient now could hasten the return of allowing games — at any level — with spectators in the crowds and while avoiding the “bubble” atmosphere that professional leagues like the NBA are implementing for their return.
“We want sports to get back to a level of operation where they’re able to be played with audiences and concessions, the economic impact that they have, and maintaining the psychological impact on the players and allowing them to sort of maintain balance in their structure,” Kratoville said. “You have to think about all of that in your decision making, but not with this sort of short-term lens.”
People will be more likely to take these precautions, Kratoville said, if the issue is framed in a way that makes it clear that any halting steps being taken now will help control community spread of the virus and provide a quicker return to normalcy in the long run.
“If you take this action, make this sacrifice,” he said, “you actually are increasing the likelihood that we’re going to get back faster and increasing the likelihood that we can engage in organized sports in the long term, without a bunch of fits and starts.
“I think that less scolding framing is going to be the important way to cover this going forward. This is the proactive approach that you can take to control how this is going to go — or, at least, control how this is going to go for your community.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.